We are required by law to update Congress twice a year on our efforts to oversee the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) programs and operations and to combat Social Security fraud, waste, and abuse. We do this through two Semiannual Reports to Congress.
We redesigned our Spring 2019 semiannual report with a more modern approach that uses visuals to help you identify the most important information in the report. Here are four numbers from the report that highlight our investigative, audit, and legal accomplishments from October 1, 2018 through March 31, 2019.
We are reporting over $248 million in investigative accomplishments, which includes over $125 million in SSA recoveries, restitution, fines, settlements, and judgments, and over $123 million in estimated savings. Our investigators pursued investigations related to Social Security disability fraud, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) fraud and Social Security number (SSN) misuse, among other program categories.
For example, our Nashville, Tennessee office investigated a 40-year-old Nevada man who used the SSNs of 27 victims to submit fraudulent online applications for Social Security benefits, and subsequently direct the benefit payments to pre-paid debit cards that he controlled. The man ended up pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. In October 2018, he was sentenced to 33 months in prison and 3 years of supervised release, and was ordered to repay $547,719 to SSA.
During this period, our auditors issued 21 reports and made recommendations on various challenges related to Social Security’s programs and operations.
In one of the reports, SSI Recipients Eligible for Retirement Benefits, our auditors had to determine whether SSA had adequate controls to ensure it properly awarded retirement benefits to individuals who were receiving SSI payments. They identified 14,438 SSI recipients over age 62 who were in current pay status and fully insured for retirement benefits, but were not receiving retirement benefits. They found that SSA did not always award retirement benefits to SSI recipients who became eligible after they attained age 62. They estimated SSA did not award $54.3 million in retirement benefits or reduce SSI payments by $49.5 million.
OIG attorneys imposed over $9 million in penalties and assessments against people for violations of Section 1129 of the Social Security Act. We are authorized to impose penalties against (1) anyone who makes any false statements or misrepresentations to obtain or retain benefits or payments under Titles II, VIII, or XVI of the Social Security Act; (2) representative payees who wrongfully convert payments; and (3) individuals who knowingly withhold a material fact from SSA.
For example, an Alabama woman received Social Security benefits under two identities. The woman received Disability Insurance benefits under her name and SSN, while also receiving Disability Insurance benefits and SSI payments under a different name and SSN. As a result, she wrongfully received $120,215, and our attorneys imposed a civil monetary penalty of $360,645, which she must pay to SSA.
During this reporting period, OIG’s Fraud Hotline received 155,055 allegations via telephone, mail, fax, and the internet. Hotline referrals to Social Security offices resulted in identifying $797,914 in Social Security overpayments.
In one example, someone reported to our hotline that a California woman resided outside of the United States, but received SSI from 2004 through 2017. We investigated and found evidence that the woman was not living in the United States, so she had improperly received $104,824 in SSI and $16,455 from the State of California that she was not eligible for. The woman pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 3 years of probation and was ordered to make full restitution to SSA and California.
Our Semiannual Report to Congress is a great way to learn of our most significant accomplishments in a glance. The next one will be published on November 30, 2019. In the meantime, if you suspect someone of committing fraud against Social Security, you can submit an allegation to the OIG here.