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If you know people who are cheating then turn them in

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POSTED June 28, 2013 9:14 p.m.

 

Every time I write a column in which I point out how difficult it is to qualify for Social Security disability benefits, as I did several weeks ago, my inbox is flooded with emails from folks who are convinced the disability program is rife with "waste, fraud and abuse." Everyone claims to know someone who is cheating the system. They've got a brother-in-law who is getting disability checks but working and getting paid "under the table." Or they have a neighbor living off the government disability dole but who is "healthy as a horse and always doing work around his house." Or they know someone who knows someone whose cousin is supposedly getting disability checks but who is dealing drugs on the side.

The stories I get go on and on. And I answer every one of these emails the very same way. I say, "If you really believe this person is cheating the system, why not report him or her to the government?" It is so easy to do, and you can make the report anonymously.

All you have to do is go to the Social Security Administration website: www.socialsecurity.gov. Right near the top of the home page you will see a link labeled "Report fraud." When you open that link, you will find a variety of ways to turn someone in for cheating the system.

You can either fill out a report online. Or you can call the agency's fraud hotline at 800-269-0271. Or you can mail a report to: SSA Fraud Hotline, P.O. Box 17785, Baltimore, MD 21235.

And again, you can make any of these reports anonymously. But every single time I've ever followed up on one of these emails to find out if the person turned in the alleged violator, I get the same response: "No!" They usually say, "I just didn't want to get involved." Or they will tell me, "It was just too much trouble." Sometimes they will fess up and tell me, "I really wasn't sure the person is getting disability" or "I really wasn't sure they are cheating the system."

So what I've come to accept over the years is that most people just like to gripe about the whole "waste, fraud and abuse" issue, but they really don't have all the facts to back up their allegations. Or if they do, they are too lazy to take any action about it. And then they simply become part of the problem!

But sometimes there are other reasons they don't want to turn someone in for defrauding the government. As an example, let me share this (slightly edited) email exchange I had with one reader.

Reader's first email: "Dear Tom, I know someone who is ripping off the government. He gets a disability check because he allegedly has mental problems brought on by drug abuse. Yet he is working full time in the underground economy and is making over $100,000 per year. And he shows no remorse for his wrongdoing. In fact, he even flaunts the fact that he is ripping off the system. I think it's a shame that the government is paying this man benefits he simply does not deserve."

My first response: "If you really know such a person, please report him to the Social Security Administration fraud department." I then proceeded to give her all the contact methods described earlier in this column.

Reader's second email: "Thank you for sharing that. But I'm not really sure I can make this report anonymously. I'm afraid the government will be able to trace any computer or phone message I send. "

My second response: "I absolutely assure you that you can make an anonymous report. But if you are worried about using your computer or phone, then you can make your report by mail. Assuming you don't put a return address sticker on the envelope, there is no way they can trace a mailed report back to you."

Reader's third email: "Thanks again, but I think I will just let sleeping dogs lie. I don't want to get any more involved in this."

My third response: "Frankly, I'm confused. Your first email told me how corrupt this person is and how upset you are that he is cheating the system. Why don't you want to turn him in?"

Reader's last email: "Because I'm married to him!"

I really wanted to tell this lady that maybe her first step should be to talk to a divorce lawyer — and then maybe her next step would be to contact Social Security. But I guess I wouldn't have been telling her anything she hadn't already thought about many times!

Some people have told me they don't report fraud because "the government isn't going to do anything about it anyway!" But I tell them that my best friend from my days working for the Social Security Administration was one of the agency's fraud investigators. I know for a fact that he and his colleagues diligently pursued any lead they got about alleged fraudulent activity.

So if you really do know someone whom you believe is cheating the system, be a good citizen and do something about it! Go to www.socialsecurity.gov and file that fraud report.

 

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