The day you receive your first disability claim check, it may seem like you and the Social Security Administration (SSA) are finally on the same page. They wanted you to prove you are severely disabled, and you did. They wanted you to prove that your disability prevents you from holding a job, and you did. They wanted you to prove that your disability is not a temporary condition, but one that is expected to last at least 12 months, and you did. However the task of having to prove yourself is far from over. Now, you must prove that you continue to deserve the disability benefits it took you so long to receive.
Fraud is a huge problem for the SSA has to deal with each and every single day. Any time a person receives benefits under false pretenses, he or she is committing fraud. Fraud has become more common during the recession and the SSA is devoting time and money to finding and punishing fraud, beginning with its regular reviews of the status of each disability recipient. Even if you are eventually found not guilty, having to defend yourself from a fraud claim is something everyone wants to avoid. Think ahead and follow these suggestions to avoid even the appearance of wrongdoing:
- Keep SSA Informed Regarding Your Work Status. Report all and any changes in your work activity to the Social Security Administration, including the hours you work, what kind of work you do, and the pay you receive. Concealing the fact that you work or falsifying any fact concerning your work is labeled as Fraud by the SSA.
- If You Work, Stay Below the Maximum Income Limits. Keep abreast of the “substantial gainful activity” (SGA) amount. In 2010, the SGA amount is $1,000 a month, gross. If you are blind, it is $1,640 a month, gross. If you work while receiving Social Security disability benefits, be sure that your work income below the maximum amount. Concealing the fact that you make over the minimum amount is also considered as Fraud by the SSA.
- SSI Benefits Can Only Be Paid in the U.S.. If you move overseas, you must notify Social Security and accept the fact that your SSI benefits will no longer be paid to you. Continuing to receive SSI benefits while living abroad is considered Fraud as well.
- Report Your Eligibility for Other Disability Benefits. If you find you are eligible for other types of disability benefits, you must let the Social Security Administration know. SSA will adjust your disability benefits up or down to reflect additional payments or loss of payments from other sources. In addition, if you apply for other disability benefits or if you receive an amount of money related to your disability (such as a litigation settlement), inform Social Security. SSA will label it as fraud if you do not report all other disability benefits that you are receiving.
- Report Changes in Your Situation. If your living or work situation changes, let Social Security know. Changes that need to be reported include the death of a spouse, divorce, losing custody of a minor who is receiving benefits, the death of someone for whom you have been receiving benefits, being convicted of a crime, moving, or changing your name. Failing to report any changes in situation will be labeled as fraud. If you aren’t sure if a change is something to be reported, the best course of action is just to let the agency know.
- If Your Disability or Medical Condition Improves. If your condition improves to the point that you can function at a high enough level to support yourself, let the agency know. While it may be tempting to continue to accept Social Security disability payments to supplement your income after you find a job, it is continued fraud to continue to receive disability benefits when you no longer technically need them.
The best way to avoid an accusation of fraud is to 1) keep in contact with the Social Security Administration, 2) keep up to date on the regulations that pertain to you, and 3) report all changes in your medical, personal, and work situation.