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SSA seeks criminal background checks for 'representative payees'

Some of our posts of late have focused on the public perception of fraud within the Social Security disability program. Generally speaking, instances of SSD fraud are much rarer than they may seem based on news reports.

That being said, one kind of Social Security disability fraud is particularly unacceptable because it represents both an abuse of the system and an abuse of those who should legitimately be receiving Social Security disability benefits. The perpetrators of this fraud are individuals designated as “representative payees,” who are supposed to collect benefits on behalf of beneficiaries who cannot manage their own finances. You can learn more about the Representative Payment Program on the Social Security Administration’s website.

A beneficiary might need an RP if they are mentally disabled or are otherwise unable to manage the benefits they receive. Sadly, some take on the role of RP simply to steal money that should be going to the beneficiaries they have been designated to help.

Perhaps the most well-known case of RP fraud in recent years was one involving a Philadelphia woman who allegedly locked up several mentally disabled adults in her basement and stole their benefits checks.

In response to that horrific crime, the Social Security Administration launched a pilot program in Philadelphia. It prohibited individuals from becoming representative payees if they had one (or more) of 12 crimes on their record. These included:

  • Human trafficking
  • Robbery
  • False imprisonment
  • Fraud to obtain government assistance
  • Kidnapping
  • Rape/sexual assault
  • Fraud by scheme
  • First-degree homicide
  • Theft of government funds/property
  • Forgery
  • Identity theft
  • Abuse/neglect

Recently, the SSA announced that it will expand this pilot program nationally, deeming it a success in Philadelphia. Critics say that the SSA may have to use incomplete and unreliable records to do background checks because the agency doesn’t have access to the FBI’s criminal database. Still, the SSA’s attempt to screen representative payees might be better than taking no action.

This new initiative by the SSA is unlikely to affect individuals who are seeking or collecting Social Security disability benefits on their own behalf.

Source: Philly.com, "Social Security expands background checks," Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker, Mar. 3, 2014

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