It looks like the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) is taking one obvious step in its efforts to stamp out abuse of the system – reviewing the files of exceptional cases, like those receiving benefits and who are 100 years of age or older. With some 70,000 Americans over the age of 100, reviewing centenarian Americans who receive Social Security benefits is certainly more efficient than reviewing all 54 million plus beneficiaries of SSA benefits.
Family members who never report the passing of their loved ones is a common way that fraudsters siphon SSA money away from those truly in need. In a case out of Indiana, though, the SSA did not uncover its oversight for 12 years. Patricia Maxwell had been collecting her dead grandmother’s Social Security payments since the summer of 1998. The SSA continued to pay benefits to her grandmother’s bank account, which was a joint account that Maxwell shared.
The SSA was conducting a review of beneficiaries over the age of 100 when it found out that Maxwell’s grandmother should have been 105 years old. The SSA contacted Indiana officials who informed the SSA that she had passed away years earlier.
The fraud was bound to unravel at some point, as Maxwell was accumulating a substantial amount of money – $122,514 in undeserved benefits. A federal court recently sentenced the woman to nine months of home detention followed by three years of probation. She must also repay the funds she stole from Social Security.
It might seem like a quick and easy fix, but the SSA has been trying for years to find an efficient way to check its records with other agencies to avoid mispayments like those that occurred in this case. Will the Social Security Administration ever be able to stop payments to deceased individuals? Or does the sheer size of the benefits programs mean that some waste is inevitable?