Every time we get a paycheck, we see that Uncle Sam has deducted a small percentage.  That money – our Social Security – is put away until we retire.  There are lots of rules surrounding the Social Security program, but one thing is certain:  it isn’t a survivor benefit.  Our relatives are not entitled to our Social Security payments when we die.  Payments are supposed to stop.  Today’s Fraud of the Day news brief from the Office of the Inspector General, Office of Investigations at the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) focuses on a case about a man accused of stealing his mother’s Social Security funds after her death.

The article reports that a Texas man has been indicted and “charged with one count of theft of government property in connection with Social Security benefits paid on behalf of a woman believed to be his mother.”  The indictment says that the SSA decided to investigate the case when records revealed that the woman entitled to the benefits would have been 104-years old.  (Wow!  That is really getting up there.  Should we check to see if she is alive?  Nah!)  Upon investigation, the state of Texas produced a death certificate for the woman, which confirmed her death back in 1984.  (So, why wasn’t this sent to the SSA in 1984?)  The investigation also found that the checks were being deposited into a joint checking account previously held by the deceased and the defendant.  The defendant allegedly withdrew the funds each month, totaling $231,000 over the 26-year period.

Obviously, the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.  Even so, the case puts forth an interesting scenario.  How hard would it be for someone to continue to receive Social Security checks – or any other type of benefit – in a joint checking account after the intended recipient is deceased?  What safeguards are in place to inform the agency dispersing the funds that the intended recipient is deceased?  Can we really rely upon the integrity of a joint account holder when potentially thousands of dollars are at stake?

So, here’s the question for the day:  would your agency know if one of your beneficiaries died, or would you continue to disperse checks until you informed otherwise?

  1. Social Security once had the practice of having a Happy Birthday letter delivered to every centenarian. This was good for publicity and was a way to check whether this beneficiary was still around to celebrate birthdays and to collect benefits. I am a bit surprised that this procedure was discontinued.

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