Q: I know someone who is getting disability benefits from Social Security. But he spends half of his disability check on illegal drugs. How can this person get away with wasting taxpayer money like this? Is there any way I can report him to the authorities? Also, how can a drug addict get benefits in the first place?
A: Drug addicts cannot get Social Security disability benefits IF drug addiction is their only disabling condition. However, many drug addicts have other medical problems and disabilities — that's why they may qualify for benefits.
So if this person you claim to know is legitimately disabled (because of problems other than drug addiction) and is getting Social Security disability benefits, then he can do with his money as he wants — because it is his money. In other words, he "earned" the benefit by working at a job and paying Social Security taxes just as a retiree "earns" his or her Social Security benefit by working and paying taxes.
What is the difference between a disabled person getting Social Security disability benefits and a retired person getting Social Security retirement benefits? One person qualifies based on a physical impairment and the other person qualifies based on age. Would you turn in a retiree if he was spending all his pension check on hard liquor or beer? Would you report an older woman for fraud because she might be gambling away her Social Security widow's check at a casino?
Do you see my point? That Social Security check, whether it be a retirement payment, a widow's benefit, or a disability check, is money that was earned by the person getting the check — or in the case of the widow, money earned by her husband — and they can do whatever they want with it.
Now it would be a whole different story if the person was getting Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability. Unlike Social Security disability (which is regular Social Security), SSI is a welfare program and people getting SSI must spend their money for basic food and shelter needs. People getting SSI are being supported directly by taxpayers. They are not getting an "earned" benefit as is the case with Social Security retirement, survivors, or disability checks.
Therefore, if this person you know is getting SSI disability, you can report them to Social Security's fraud hotline. You have two options for reporting fraud. You can go to Social Security's website, www.socialsecurity.gov and click on the link "Report Fraud" that is right on the homepage. Or you can call Social Security's fraud hotline at 800-269-0271.
Q: I thought I remember a past column in which you said that prisoners cannot get Social Security benefits. I have an uncle in prison, and the last time I visited him, he showed me something he printed off the Internet that gives prisoners hints on how they can collect Social Security benefits, SSI payments and many other federal benefits as well. What is going on here?
A: What is going on is that prisoners can be duped into believing anything they read on the Internet just as often as people outside of prison.
Anyone who has read my column for any length of time knows that I spend a lot of time refuting the rumors and outright lies about Social Security that are spread online. Hardly a day goes by without at least one of my readers sending me an email referencing some silly or outlandish Social Security rumor being circulated in cyberspace.
Prisoners are even more susceptible to such online scams and lies because many of them are desperate for some bit of good news or some form of assistance — whether it be from a government source or anyone else.
And this has been going on for a long time, even in the pre-Internet days. About 20 years ago, I was put on a taskforce of Social Security agents charged with trying to come up with ways to combat all the Social Security and other federal benefit scams that were spreading throughout the nation's prisons. Apparently we did a lousy job because, two decades later, the problem still remains.
Once again, let me make this perfectly clear. No one who is in prison can collect any kind of Social Security or Supplemental Security Income payment — or any other federal benefit of which I am aware.