Illegally Collecting Government Benefits? Penalties For Fraud

by Stacy Aspen on November 23, 2013

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Illegally Collecting Government Benefits? Penalties For Fraud

(U.S. Law and generally) Individuals who are qualified for government benefits often qualify because of assets and income ability. Recipients are always required to submit personal information, such as medical reports and bank statements. Filing for government benefits is not as easy as many individuals think. There is a wide range of disabilities that may qualify a resident for benefits, but filing for Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability are two different processes.

Although the final determination is often made by a state agency initially, winning a disability claim through the Social Security Administration is more difficult because the legal disability ruling is generally irreversible.

SSI Qualification

Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, is routinely approved for one year and the recipient is reevaluated at the end of the period. Reassessment is based on the recipient and the material facts of their claim, and the benefit can be stopped at any time during a benefit year for practically any reason. Most individuals who are caught in fraudulent claims are receiving SSI because the threshold for earnings is minimal and other financial claims are part of the means-tested decision process.

SSI recipients are allowed to earn $165 in income before being assessed a penalty. Recipients may also receive $65 in unearned income. Additionally, a recipient can only have $2000 in actual assets in addition to the allowable personal vehicle and home ownership. Fraudulent behavior usually is based on a failure to report the income or assets.

SSDI Qualifications

Social Security Disability uses different parameters. For instance, in 2012 there were 117,000 recipients of SSDI in South Carolina; a Columbia social security disability attorney local to the area says they, “recognize that applying for…Disability benefits can be a complicated, confusing and time consuming process.” Recipients are not means-tested, as their eligibility is based on their Social Security tax pay record. Recipients must have 20 quarters, or 5 years of taxes, on record in the immediate preceding ten years from the date of the claim. All others are considered for SSI.

This is a permanent disability ruling, and it is much more difficult to stop payment on or detect fraud. Most SSDI fraud is based on fraudulent payee claims by individuals other than the disabled recipient. Recipients are allowed to earn up to $900 per month if they are under 67 years of age, and there is no asset limit.


Penalties have a significant range and are determined by the actual code that is violated, along with the severity of the damage. Individuals who have claimed benefits fraudulently over an extended period of time can expect a stronger penalty and be required to pay the benefits back. Restitution is additional to any fine or incarceration period. Depending on the law and the material case facts, penalties range from a misdemeanor filing to a felony. Penalties for misdemeanors carry a maximum of a $1000 fine and up to one year incarceration, or both. Felony penalties can be applied for up to $10,000 and five years incarceration in addition to financial restitution, or both.

While it may be temping to stretch the truth to collect valuable dollars, it is clear that fraudulently receiving benefits from the Social Security Administration can be a very serious charge. Any individual receiving governmental benefits should think seriously about the implications of fraudulent information. To ensure you receive legitimate information, search online for a Columbia social security disability attorney before applying in the South Carolina “low country” area.


Stacy Aspen

Stacy Aspen

Stacy Aspen has been a legal writer since 2008, assisting lawyers with articles, research papers, web copy and blog posts. Stacy has a BA in creative writing and also enjoys writing poetry in her spare time.

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