Survivor Benefits

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The Social Security Administration (SSA) makes it pretty clear about what to do when someone who receives Social Security benefits dies. First, if there is a surviving spouse, they must report their loved one’s death to the agency. (Usually the funeral home will take care of this, but if not, a call to any Social Security office will do.) Next, the surviving spouse must return any benefits received after their mate died. A Binghamton, New York woman did neither after her husband died and consequently committed Social Security fraud by continuing to collect her husbands Social Security benefits for more than two decades after he passed away. And, if that was not enough, she also applied for and received additional government benefits she did not deserve. (She was definitely maximizing the opportunity to double dip.)

The New Yorker’s husband died in 1990, but she continued to receive his monthly benefits, which were deposited directly into his bank account. (Obviously, she still controlled the account, so she had full access to the government funds.) Since the SSA did not know that the man had died, the agency continued to pay out nearly $270,000 over 23 years. (Prosecutors said that the wife was well aware that she was not legally entitled to receive his monthly benefits check, but she spent the money anyway.)

The Binghamton woman not only illegally collected her husband’s check, she also applied for and received Supplemental Security Income (SSI). (Obviously, she didn’t reveal that she was collecting her deceased husband’s benefits. That information would have disqualified her from receiving the SSI money.) Over seven years, the woman also took advantage of the government needs-based program available to elderly, blind and disabled individuals.

After a four-day trial, the 63-year-old woman from Binghamton was convicted of Social Security fraud. This lady was lucky to receive five years of probation for the fraudulent use of her deceased husband’s Social Security benefits. (Prior to her trial, she was facing up to a decade in prison and three years of supervised release.) She is also required to pay restitution in the amount of $32,581. The U.S. Attorney’s office reported that the total loss to the government was approximately $63,500. (While this survivor benefited from not revealing that her husband had died, her crime committed over 23 years did not go unnoticed. The SSA has sent a clear message to anyone else thinking of stealing government benefits from vulnerable citizens.)

Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on an article entitled, “Binghamton woman sentenced for stealing Social Security benefits after husband’s death,” posted on pressconnects.com on March 28, 2019.  

A Binghamton woman will spend five years on probation for fraudulent use of her deceased husband’s Social Security benefits.

Patricia L. Williams, 63, was found guilty in October after a four-day trial in Binghamton’s federal courthouse. At sentencing Wednesday, she was ordered to pay $32,581 in restitution to the Social Security Administration.

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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.