Alternate Payees Need More Careful Scrutiny

Last week we mentioned how the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) could have played an important role in catching the criminals involved in the Philadelphia disability benefits theft/human trafficking case. The payee arrangements should have set off alarms.

Payees are those to whom the SSA pays benefits – normally the person directly, but sometimes an alternate person. In the Philadelphia case, disability benefits were going to a convicted felon on behalf of the victims. A recent editorial appearing in The Dallas Morning News argued for the same fix we suggested last week regarding better checks on alternate payees.

The problem is not with having alternate payees in general. This sort of arrangement is often quite useful (and necessary) for disability beneficiaries. For example, those suffering from severe mental disabilities may live in a group home; they may not be able to manage their finances without assistance, so their disability benefits would be payable to a representative of the home.

Most of these alternate payees are honest, good people – they take out the money that goes towards the patient’s group home costs and medical expenses, and then remit the remainder to the patient or his or her family guardian. Less scrupulous alternate payees take all the beneficiary’s money and may give him or her nothing, or just a few dollars a week to live.

The ringleader of the Philadelphia scam – Linda Weston – appears to have been taking all her victims’ benefits. Linda Weston was convicted of murder in 1983 for starving her sister’s boyfriend. Under no circumstances should she have been receiving disability benefits on behalf of anyone.

Do you have experience with an alternate payee set up for disability benefits? Do you suspect that a loved one’s alternate payee is violating his or her duties? If so, report your concern to the Social Security Administration.


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