Taking Advantage of Granny

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It’s common to hear about fraudsters who take advantage of deceased family members to collect government benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) Office of the Inspector General reports that in 2015, 529 deceased payee fraud cases were closed and 210 payee fraud cases led to criminal convictions. The agency recovered $34 million in the process. A trucker from Michigan tried to drive away with his granny’s Social Security benefits for a decade, but the government put the brakes on his illegal scheme.

The man simply didn’t report his grandmother’s death to the SSA, who commonly learns about deaths either through families, funeral homes or state reporting systems. (For example, when investigators examine Medicare data and find that an elderly person has not used their Medicare benefits in a while, that raises a red flag.)

In this case, the grandson continued to receive about $12,000 a year for 10 years. (He forged his grandmother’s benefit checks.)

The 40-year-old man was sentenced to probation for his decade of criminal acts. (He apparently apologized and agreed to return the money.) On top of the probation, he was also ordered to do community service by serving in a local church kitchen.

The government is often seen as an easy target for fraud. Light sentences like the one ordered in this case don’t help. While prison is considered more appropriate for people who are a threat to public safety, another deterrent that might be effective in preventing Social Security fraud would be the loss of the criminal’s own Social Security benefits. (Perhaps that would help to decrease the number of deceased individuals from being victimized.)

Source: Today’s ”Fraud of the Day” is based on an article entitled, ”Probation for man who cashed $122K of dead grandma’s Social Security,” published by Detroit Free-Press on June 21, 2016.

A man who didn’t report his grandmother’s death to the Social Security Administration was sentenced to probation Monday for collecting $122,000 in illegal benefits, another light punishment for a crime that rarely results in prison time in eastern Michigan.

Prosecutors sought at least 10 months of confinement for Akili Owens, prison or otherwise. U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts acknowledged the significance of the crime but said prison is more appropriate for people who are a threat to public safety, not a Social Security fraudster.

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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.