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SSA to increase background checks on representative payees

The nation was shocked by an altogether appalling criminal case involving a scheme to illegally collect Social Security benefits back in October 2011. What made the case in question so shocking was that it didn't involve filing false paperwork or theft of large amounts of money, but rather the unlawful imprisonment of disabled people forced to live in deplorable conditions.

Specifically, federal prosecutors are now alleging that five people in the Philadelphia area held four mentally disabled adults against their will in a basement in order to steal their Social Security Disability benefits.

In the aftermath of the story, journalists with The New York Daily News penned an eye-opening series of stories exposing just how easily elderly and disabled persons can be victimized by unscrupulous parties looking to steal Social Security benefits.

In response to all that transpired, the Social Security Administration announced in June 2012 that it was launching a new pilot program in the Philadelphia area to expand the protections available to otherwise vulnerable benefit recipients.

The pilot program essentially expanded background checks on prospective "representative payees," meaning those people who collect and manage benefits on behalf of individuals unable to manage their finances on their own. Here, those applicants whose background checks revealed evidence of any one of the following 12 crimes were automatically rejected under the program:

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

The program has proven to be such a success that the SSA announced earlier this week that it is now being expanded nationally.

The move was applauded by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa), who has long pushed the SSA to expand protections and close loopholes. However, he also cautioned that this was only a start.

"While this expansion is a good step, it's not the end of our efforts," he said. "We've got to monitor this program closely to make sure it works and that every person who applies to be a representative payee goes through a criminal background check."

It is worth noting that some critics of the pilot program have pointed out that SSA employees are forced to rely on public records and perhaps incomplete third-party databases when making their determinations as the FBI has denied them access to its criminal database. In addition, they point out that SSA employees flagged less than 1 percent of the 34,850 representative payee applications it reviewed.

Stay tuned for updates ...

If you believe that you have been wrongly denied SSD benefits or would like to learn more about your eligibility for SSD benefits, consider speaking with an experienced attorney dedicated to securing the assistance you need and deserve.

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer, "Social Security expands background checks," Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker, March 3, 2014

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