Like death and taxes, scams are a fact of life — but that doesn’t mean you have to fall for them. By taking a few moments to educate yourself, you can avoid scam-related headaches. That’s why we’re sharing the most popular disability scam techniques out there today, from most to least common. We’re also including tips on how to avoid them.
Disability Scam #1: Phishing
When fraudsters impersonate someone else to trick you into giving out your personal information, it’s called phishing. This disability scam usually targets older Americans through phone calls or via email. First, a reputable disability advocate service (like ours) will never ask for your Social Security number or bank account information! If someone does ask you for sensitive personal information, it’s a sign you might be dealing with a disability scam.
Second, remember this: All official Social Security Administration-related emails come from a “.gov” email address. If an email says it’s from the SSA but the address doesn’t end in “.gov”, use caution before clicking anything. Social Security will never ask you to provide personal information, especially your bank account routing number or SSN, via email.
Disability Scam #2: Deceased Payee Fraud
This occurs when someone like a relative or neighbor keeps cashing a person’s disability checks after that individual passes away. The most recent case involved a Utah woman who collected $381,096 in fraudulent disability benefits from 1993 to 2014. This scam fell apart when the Medicare Non-Utilization Project, or MNUP, investigated the deceased beneficiary’s case. (The MNUP identifies deceased Social Security beneficiaries, stops their benefits, and refers possible deceased payee fraud cases to the OIG.) The Utah woman was arrested, convicted, and ordered to repay in full all monies collected from her fraud case.
Since Social Security taxpayers are the primary fraud victims, in this case, it’s not something to lose much sleep over. Perpetrators are also more likely to be caught now due to better data collection techniques and investigations by the MNUP. In fact, in the fiscal year 2015, 529 deceased payee fraud cases were closed, recovering $34 million in lost funds.
Disability Scam #3: Conspiracy
Conspiracy is the rarest but most notorious type of scam since it generates so much media attention whenever it occurs. Authorities busted two major conspiracy schemes in the U.S. and Puerto Rico within the past five years. Former Social Security judge David B. Daugherty’s arrest in April 2017 resulted from the largest disability fraud case in history. Daugherty accepted $609,000 in cash bribes from a lawyer named, appropriately enough, Eric C. Conn. He then pled guilty for approving over 3,000 unqualified Social Security disability insurance benefits (SSDI) claims over several years. Conn collected over $7 million for participating in the $500,000,000 scam, which also involved crooked clinical psychologist Alfred Bradley Adkins.
Yes, you read that correctly: That disability scam involved a half a billion dollars in payments to unqualified SSDI recipients.
While scams like this one certainly are newsworthy, they’re also incredibly hard to pull off. You need at least one doctor, lawyer, and most likely a judge conspiring together as well as the unqualified claimants. And the more people involved in committing fraud, the less likely it is to go unnoticed.
Where You Can Report Suspected Fraud
The Federal Trade Commission suggests reporting any suspected identity theft issues directly to IdentityTheft.gov. Never give your Social Security number or bank account information to someone who calls you. Don’t wire funds or send money using your debit card to anyone you do not know. Never pay someone who calls out of the blue purporting to be a government employee for the IRS or SSA. If you have disability benefits, regularly check your beneficiary status online or by visiting your local SSA office. Review your bank account statements to make sure they’re correct. If you get pressured to provide sensitive financial information, end the call immediately and report it to the FTC.
If you do suspect you’ve encountered a disability scam or suspect someone of committing Social Security fraud, report it on the OIG’s website here.
You May Qualify for Legal Assistance
Want to learn more about how to avoid scam-related headaches? We can help you find an experienced disability attorney or advocate near you that handles cases like yours all the time. Click the button below to start your free benefits evaluation with an experienced disability attorney or advocate and see if you may qualify for legal assistance today.
Laura Schaefer is the author of The Teashop Girls, The Secret Ingredient, and Littler Women: A Modern Retelling. She is also an active co-author or ghostwriter of several nonfiction books on personal and business development. Laura currently lives in Windermere, Florida with her husband and daughter and works with clients all over the world. Visit her online at lauraschaeferwriter.com and linkedin.com.