People who feign disabilities in Utah can get away with millions of dollars – money you pay into social security and money employers pay to cover accidents on the job.
“We’ve had lots of egregious cases,” Workers Compensation Fund Special Investigation V.P., Joel Campbell said.
One example is a man in a wheelchair claiming a serious disability and saying he cannot walk.
“He was coming out of the doctor's appointment in the chair, and then he wheels up the sidewalk a ways, and when he thinks he's out of sight of people who would care, he gets out of the chair and pushes it,” Campbell says.
This is one case of many.
The Workers' Compensation Fund says it discovers flagrant fraud in dozens of cases a year, which are turned over to prosecutors. Sometimes there are criminal charges, plea bargains, and orders to pay back money.
Not many suspects, however, see the inside of a jail cell.
“Yes, there are people who commit fraud. I know there are people who commit fraud,” one man acquitted of fraud said.
“It angers me, but sometimes it's not black and white either,” the man added.
Another man acquitted of fraud says one day he would feel okay, but the next he would be in agony.
“I was hurt. I was injured. I wasn't lying. I wasn't trying to get anything special. I was just trying to get treated, that's it,” he said.
After what he says was a serious back injury – surveillance showed him repairing his car.
He says he was in pain but had little money, so he had no choice but to work a little at a time. He says it took days to replace a water pump.
He says the photos do not tell his whole story.
“I tried to go back to work. One day I could feel okay, but the next day, I’d be in agony,” he said.
“Even after I had surgery, they pursued the criminal case against me,” the man added.
The Workers Compensation Fund says an acquittal is rare.
Workers compensation is a private insurer that began as a state agency. On the federal level, the Social Security Administration provides disability benefits.
It has a "Cooperative Disability Investigation Unit" - operating in Salt Lake for roughly a year – which tries to stop fraud before it starts.
In a recent 3 month period, the local CDI unit, as it's called, says it confirmed 42 cases of fraud or "similar fault."
One bounty hunter and former private eye estimates he's done video surveillance on roughly 20 instances of suspected disability fraud in Utah – and many more in another state.
"You're pleasantly surprised if you can't prove someone's lying,” the former private eye said.
Debra Mair, Executive Director of Utah Independent Living Center said although she was paralyzed in a snow tubing accident, she does not qualify for Social Security benefits as long as she is working.
Debra says people gaming the system harm people with actual disabilities.
"You know, I think it creates a situation where no one wins I think in some ways, it could negatively impact people who genuinely need to collect disability,” Debra Mair said.
2News reported last month on concerns of long waits in processing workers compensation claims, and there may be waits for social security disability benefits.
But people feigning disability may hurt, and almost certainly not speed up the programs.
To report disability fraud here are the hotlines:
Utah Workers Compensation Fund
Social Security Administration