When most of us think of Federal agents, we think of the Hollywood version, dressed in suits and sunglasses. You may also know, thanks to a TV show called NCIS, that Federal agencies other than the FBI also have law enforcement agents. In fact, dozens of Federal agencies have their own law enforcement authority, and special agents who use that authority every day.
Social Security is no different. We have criminal investigators—aka special agents—who are responsible for investigating violations of the laws that govern Social Security’s programs. Currently, about 230 special agents work in 66 offices across the United States. Just like FBI or NCIS agents, our investigators have full law enforcement authority, including executing search warrants and making arrests.
Our investigations begin as allegations of suspected fraud, which we receive from SSA employees, other law enforcement agencies, and the public through our Fraud Hotline. Special agents and other personnel review, analyze, and develop about 100,000 allegations every year. When they can find evidence of fraud, they open a full investigation, like this one. As in this case, our ultimate goal for our investigations is a successful criminal prosecution—often with court-ordered restitution so your tax dollars will be returned to the Trust Funds.
About 75 percent of our investigations deal with fraud in Social Security’s disability programs. The overwhelming majority of disability applicants and recipients truly need these benefits, and comply with Social Security’s complex laws and regulations. However, sometimes people do take advantage of the system, and our special agents are on the lookout for those people. We receive our best referrals from the SSA employees who interact with the public, and also from public citizens such as yourself. Our agents depend on specific and detailed information to develop those allegations and follow them to gather evidence that a prosecutor will be able to use in a criminal process.
In just the first six months of Fiscal Year 2012, our special agents closed 3,804 investigations—about 16 investigations per agent. Each investigation represents countless hours of effort in and out of the office. They not only conduct and document the entire investigation, but they also coordinate with other law enforcement agencies and SSA, and work closely with prosecuting authorities—the United States Attorney’s Office or State or local officials—long after the investigation is closed.
Next time you sign a Social Security form, pay attention to that stern warning at the bottom about the penalties for lying on the form. If you ever wondered if that was really a crime, now you know. Making a false statement to Social Security is one of the crimes that our agents investigate.
Social Security pays out hundreds of billions of dollars a year in support of critical programs that serve the American people. We are proud to enforce Social Security’s laws and regulations to make sure that money is going to the right place, to the right people, for the right reasons.