SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
Convicted of Crimes
Against the Social Security
By conducting independent and objective audits, evaluations and investigations, we inspire public confidence in the integrity and security of SSA's programs and operations and protect them against fraud, waste and abuse. We provide timely, useful and reliable information and advice to Administration officials, Congress and the public.
The Inspector General Act created independent audit and investigative units, called the Office of Inspector General (OIG). The mission of the OIG, as spelled out in the Act, is to:
Conduct and supervise independent and objective audits and investigations
relating to agency programs and operations.
Promote economy, effectiveness, and efficiency within the agency.
Prevent and detect fraud, waste, and abuse in agency programs and operations.
Review and make recommendations regarding existing and proposed legislation and regulations relating to agency programs and operations.
Keep the agency head and the Congress fully and currently informed of problems in agency programs and operations.
To ensure objectivity, the IG Act empowers the IG with:
Independence to determine what reviews to perform.
Access to all information necessary for the reviews.
Authority to publish findings and recommendations based on the reviews.
We strive for continual improvement in SSA's programs, operations and management by proactively seeking new ways to prevent and deter fraud, waste and abuse. We commit to integrity and excellence by supporting an environment that provides a valuable public service while encouraging employee development and retention and fostering diversity and innovation.
Date: September 24, 2007
To: The Commissioner
From: Inspector General
Subject: Disability Insurance Beneficiaries Convicted of Crimes Against the Social Security Administration's Programs (A-06-06-16132)
Our objective was to examine the extent to which individuals receiving Disability Insurance benefits who were convicted of crimes against the Social Security Administration continued to receive benefits after being convicted and whether overpayments caused by these crimes were recovered.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers the Disability Insurance (DI) program which provides benefits based on disability. Most disability claims are initially processed through a network of Social Security field offices and State disability determination services (DDS). SSA field office staff obtains applications for disability benefits, disability report forms and authorization for disclosure of information forms. They also verify non-medical eligibility requirements, which may include age, employment, marital status or Social Security coverage information. After initial processing, the field office sends the case to a DDS to develop medical evidence and evaluate the disability.
Once SSA establishes that an individual is eligible for benefits under the
DI program, the Agency turns its efforts toward ensuring the individual continues
receiving benefits only as long as they continue to meet SSA's eligibility criteria.
Section 221(i) of the Social Security Act requires a periodic continuing disability
review (CDR) for disabled beneficiaries at least every 3 years except where
a finding has been made that the disability is permanent. The purpose of the
CDR is to determine whether the individual's disability has improved since the
most recent favorable determination.
A claimant who is dissatisfied with the initial determination on his/her claim may pursue reconsideration to receive a reexamination of the claim. If an individual disagrees with a reconsideration or revised reconsideration determination, the next level of appeal is a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) of the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review (ODAR).
Fraud is an inherent risk in SSA's disability programs. One type of fraud is committed by individuals who feign or exaggerate symptoms to become eligible for disability benefits. Another involves individuals who fail to report medical improvements and/or return to work. The monitoring of medical improvement or return to work of DI beneficiaries to ensure those who are no longer disabled are removed from the disability program is one way that SSA employees can prevent potential violations.
RESULTS OF REVIEW
We identified 272 individuals who were convicted of criminal and civil acts
against SSA's programs and were, or had been, receiving DI benefits during
Fiscal Years (FY) 2003 through 2005. At the time of our audit, 96 of the 272 individuals were receiving monthly benefit payments after their convictions. Of these
96 beneficiaries, 81 received DI benefits and 15 received retirement benefits from SSA. We found no SSA policy that prohibits individuals convicted of crimes against SSA's programs from later receiving any and all benefits to which they are entitled.
Information available from the National Investigative Case Management System
indicates that the amount of loss for the 272 cases totaled $18.8 million. Individuals
convicted of crimes against SSA that result in an overpayment are liable for
repayment of the full amount of the overpayment. SSA is not supposed to waive
such overpayments since the fraud conviction precludes a finding of "without
fault." If benefit payments become due after the conviction, the benefits
are to be withheld at the full monthly amount until the overpayment is recovered.
However, if SSA inadvertently waives the overpayment, its policy states that
it should not pursue further recovery efforts although it can accept voluntary
By not withholding benefits at the full monthly amount, SSA was not effectively recovering $1 million in outstanding debts owed by 40 of the 96 individuals currently receiving SSA benefits who were convicted of criminal and civil acts against SSA's programs. As shown in Table 1, SSA failed to withhold $3,813 in monthly benefits paid to 4 individuals who improperly received $72,414 in benefits.
Table 1: Individuals Currently Receiving Benefit Payments from SSA with No
Ongoing Recovery of Overpayments Balance Owed as of June 2007 Monthly SSA Benefits
Paid to the Individual Monthly Amount Collected by SSA
1 49,409 898 0
2 13,932 1,339 0
3 7,318 775 0
4 1,755 801 0
For the remaining 36 individuals collectively overpaid more than $976,000 related to their convictions, SSA withheld only nominal amounts from monthly benefit payments, which total $37,481 (See Appendix C). Two examples are provided below.
One individual improperly paid $28,947, currently receives $1,067 per month from SSA. To satisfy this debt, SSA withholds only $30 from each monthly payment. At this rate of collection, it will take about 78 years for SSA to recover the amount due.
One individual improperly paid $58,399, currently receives $821 per month in SSA disability benefits. Although SSA withholds only $75 per month from the benefit payment towards settling a previous overpayment of $20,000, SSA has taken no action to withhold additional funds to recover the fraud loss. At the current rate of withholding, SSA will not recover these losses until around the year 2089.
The payment terms agreed to by SSA are so unfavorable that SSA will never fully recover the amounts owed from these individuals. SSA is authorized to withhold 100 percent of current benefit payments to recover amounts overpaid to these individuals related to their crimes. If SSA exercised this option against the 40 individuals discussed above, it could reduce the average time required to collect these debts from 244 months to 28 months.
SSA Policy provides that SSA should annotate the Master Beneficiary Record (MBR) with a Fraud Indicator and in the Special Message Field when fraud contributed to an overpayment. However, only 71 of the 96 records contained the required annotation on their respective MBRs of any fraudulent activity as shown in Table 2.
Table 2: Convicted And Receiving Benefits
Type of Ongoing Benefit Cessations No Fraud Indicator Other Fraud Indication Disability Suspended for Work Total
Retirement 12 2 0 1 15
Disability 29 23 20 9 81
Totals 41 25 20 10 96
Of the 272 records we reviewed, 170 (62.5 percent) involved concealment of work or performance of significant physical and/or mental activities in work for pay. Another 34 involved exaggeration of symptoms to become eligible for disability benefits. Also, 24 concealed activities normally performed for pay. For a full list of the 272 cases, see Table 3.
Table 3: Type of Crime
Concealed Work Activity 170
Disability (Individual exaggerated symptoms) 34
Concealed Nonwork Activity 24
Representative Payee 21
Deceased Payee 6
Multiple Beneficiaries (Individual received overpayment on multiple beneficiary SSNs) 4
Fraudulent Application 4
Forge Treasury Checks 3
Theft/Misuse Government Property 1
Social Security Number Misuse/Illegal Alien 1
Social Security Number Misuse - Work 1
Identity Theft - Employment 1
False Identity 1
We reviewed earnings information for the 96 individuals and identified 17 who earned wages in FY 2006 also received disability benefits at the time of our audit. Five of the 17 individuals had significant earnings in FY 2006, indicating they were working and may no longer be eligible for disability benefits.
SSA has a control in place to compare employer-reported earnings to beneficiary data files. Beneficiaries are required to report their income that may affect eligibility. If SSA finds that an employer reported wages that the recipient did not report, it generates an alert that is sent to an SSA program service center or field office. SSA field office staff should investigate the beneficiary's possible return to work. If the beneficiary has completed a trial work period and is working, SSA should conduct a work CDR to determine if the disability has ceased due to work activity and, if the disability has ceased, stop benefit payments as appropriate.
If a disability beneficiary is performing work after the trial work period and the work is determined to be substantial gainful activity (SGA), SSA should find that the individual's disability has ceased, regardless of the individual's medical condition, age, education or work experience. Substantial gainful activity is the performance of significant physical and/or mental activities in work for pay or profit, or in work of a type generally performed for pay or profit, regardless of the legality of the work. In 2007, the dollar threshold for SGA was established as an average of $900 or more per month ($1,500 or more per month if blind).
Table 4: Convictions by Type of Disability
Disorders of the Back 58
Affective Disorders 40
Chronic Ischemic Heart Disease 11
Anxiety Related Disorders 10
SSA's definition of disability requires that an individual's inability to work be related to a medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s), and every physical or mental impairment is categorized into 1 of 16 body systems. The reviewing physician/examiner team is responsible for the diagnosis and its accuracy. Among the 272 cases we reviewed, the 5 most common types of disabilities represented by the convictions are shown in Table 4.
Of the 272 convictions we reviewed, 216 claims were approved at the DDS level and 56 were approved by ALJs at ODAR. Of the 216 approved by a DDS, 122 had been selected for CDRs and their benefits continued after the CDR.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
We identified 272 individuals who were approved for DI benefits and subsequently convicted for various crimes against SSA's programs during Fiscal Years 2003 through 2005. At the time of our audit, 96 of these individuals continued to receive benefit payments after their convictions. SSA was not effectively recovering $1 million in overpayments owed by 40 of these 96 individuals. In addition, only 71 of the 96 records contained the required annotation on their respective MBRs of any fraudulent activity. Also, earnings information for the 96 individuals who were receiving benefits at the time of our audit revealed that 17 had earnings in FY 2006, indicating they were working and may no longer be eligible for disability benefits.
We recommend that SSA:
1. Enhance overpayment collections in the cases we identified where monthly benefits are not being withheld at the full monthly amount until the overpayment is recovered.
2. Remind staff to annotate the MBR with special message and fraud indicator when recording an overpayment related to a conviction.
3. Evaluate current income verification procedures and review the claims associated with the 17 individuals who are receiving benefits and had recent earnings. Any potentially fraudulent cases should be referred to the OIG Office of Investigations.
SSA agreed with our recommendations and provided technical comments that we incorporated into the final report. The Agency's comments are included in Appendix D.
Patrick P. O'Carroll, Jr.
APPENDIX A - Acronyms
APPENDIX B - Scope and Methodology
APPENDIX C - Overpayment Recovery Schedule
APPENDIX D - Agency Comments
APPENDIX E - OIG Contacts and Staff Acknowledgements
ALJ Administrative Law Judge
CDR Continuing Disability Review
DDS Disability Determination Service
DI Disability Insurance
FY Fiscal Year
MBR Master Beneficiary Record
ODAR Office of Disability Adjudication and Review
POMS Program Operations Manual System
SGA Substantial Gainful Activity
SSA Social Security Administration
Scope and Methodology
To accomplish our objective, we analyzed Office of Investigations data for individuals who were approved for Disability Insurance (DI) benefits and later convicted of fraud against the Social Security Administration's (SSA) programs. In conducting our audit, we:
Obtained data concerning all SSA fraud cases for Fiscal Years 2003 through 2005 from the National Investigate Case Management System. We reviewed a nation-wide report to identify 272 DI beneficiaries convicted and sentenced for crimes against SSA's programs during this period.
Obtained queries for each individual from the Disability Determination Service and Office of Disability Adjudication and Review systems.
Reviewed laws and regulations related to the disability review process.
Determined that 96 of the 272 beneficiaries were receiving benefit payments at the time of our audit.
Reviewed earnings records for the DI beneficiaries receiving benefits at the time of our audit.
Obtained and reviewed Master Beneficiary Records for individuals receiving
benefits at the time of our audit to determine whether
o fraud indicators had been recorded,
o overpayments had been recorded, and
o the amount recovered as of June 2007.
We performed our work in Baltimore, Maryland and Dallas, Texas. The entity audited was SSA's field staff under the Deputy Commissioner for Operations. Our review was conducted from March to June 2006 and January to June 2007 in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.
Overpayment Recovery Schedule
Amount to be Recovered Balance Owed as of June 2007 Monthly Benefit Amount Amount Withheld by SSA Percentage of Current Benefit Withheld Months Required to Pay Debt at Current Rate Years Required to Pay Debt at Current Rate
1 $99,999 $89,084 $823 $500 60.75 178 15
2 87,962 84,466 693 64 9.24 1320 110
3 91,332 67,708 1,340 133 9.89 511 43
4 97,797 65,143 1,771 200 11.29 326 27
5 58,399 58,399 821 75 9.14 779 65
6 56,499 50,516 833 200 24.02 253 21
7 42,564 42,564 1,733 150 8.66 284 24
8 44,356 41,759 902 100 11.09 418 35
9 57,399 37,963 956 500 52.30 76 6
10 59,268 35,237 1,331 250 18.78 141 12
11 83,306 33,898 890 100 11.24 339 28
12 33,369 32,169 885 100 11.30 322 27
13 41,679 31,005 979 100 10.21 310 26
14 28,947 28,187 1,067 30 2.81 940 78
15 46,223 27,449 1,538 400 26.01 69 6
16 33,788 26,917 984 200 20.33 135 11
11,237 11,237 This individual had overpayments associated with 2 separate fraud convictions. SSA is currently collecting on the first overpayment of $33,788.
17 38,259 22,734 1,047 50 4.78 455 38
18 28,997 20,792 1,236 100 8.09 208 17
19 24,265 19,555 487 100 20.53 196 16
20 21,125 17,425 1,042 100 9.60 174 15
21 91,974 15,991 1,750 800 45.71 20 2
22 19,633 15,826 1,327 100 7.54 158 13
23 16,474 13,633 1,049 368 35.08 37 3
24 16,666 12,835 738 150 20.33 86 7
25 80,242 12,488 909 489 53.80 26 2
26 22,909 10,734 657 100 15.22 107 9
27 9,486 8,986 1,364 100 7.33 90 7
28 37,884 8,314 1,038 235 22.64 35 3
29 9,443 6,836 450 50 11.11 137 11
30 8,724 6,790 637 50 7.85 136 11
31 19,639 5,639 1,208 400 33.11 14 1
32 16,614 5,000 1,078 50 4.64 100 8
33 36,560 4,015 1,127 50 4.44 80 7
34 2,961 2,286 657 15 2.28 152 13
35 38,167 1,755 1,397 10 0.72 176 15
36 2,665 1,265 737 100 13.57 13 1
1,516,811 976,600 37,481 6,519 17.39 150 12
Note: Items in bold are discussed as examples in the body of the report.
Date: September 7, 2007
To: Patrick P. O'Carroll, Jr.
From: Larry W. Dye
Subject: Office of the Inspector General (OIG) Draft Report, "Disability Insurance Beneficiaries Convicted of Crimes Against the Social Security Administration's Programs" (A-06-06-16132)-INFORMATION
We appreciate OIG's efforts in conducting this review. Our comments on the recommendations are attached.
Please let me know if we can be of further assistance. Staff inquiries may be directed to Ms. Candace Skurnik, Director, Audit Management and Liaison Staff, at 410 965-4636.
COMMENTS ON THE OFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GENERAL (OIG) DRAFT REPORT, "DISABILITY
INSURANCE BENEFICIARIES CONVICTED OF CRIMES AGAINST THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION'S
Thank you for the opportunity to review and provide comments on this draft report. As part of our commitment to protect our programs through superior stewardship, we strive to meet our objective to detect and prevent fraudulent and improper payments and improve debt management. As described in Recommendation 3, while we have implemented some automated procedures to address convictions for fraudulent concealment of work activity, based on the results of this review, we will continue to evaluate and develop further enhancements in this regard. Our responses to the specific recommendations are as follows:
The Social Security Administration (SSA) should enhance overpayment collections in the cases OIG identified where monthly benefits are not being withheld at the full monthly amount until the overpayment is recovered.
We agree. We will review the individual cases where full withholding of the overpayment is not taking place and determine the appropriate action to take. Regarding the findings for partial withholding, Program and Operations Manual System (POMS) policy, GN 02201.055, Overpayment Recovery after Fraud Conviction, states that full withholding is required from any payable SSA benefits unless exceptions apply. However, current operating policy in that POMS section also states that "even though SSA regulations prohibit partial withholding in fraud cases, if the court orders partial withholding, SSA must honor the order."
SSA should remind staff to annotate the Master Beneficiary Record (MBR) with a special message and fraud indicator when recording an overpayment related to a conviction.
We agree. A reminder will be issued by the end of September 2007.
SSA should evaluate current income verification procedures and review the claims
associated with the 17 individuals who are receiving benefits and had recent
earnings. Any potentially fraudulent cases should be referred to the OIG Office
We agree. We have received a listing of the 17 cases and will review those cases to determine what actions we have already taken regarding the posted work, and what additional action(s) should be taken. The report should note that we currently have an automated procedure in place that addresses convictions for fraudulent concealment of work activity in the Trial Work Period (TWP). Specifically, the Disability Control File is updated to reflect fraud and an update is sent to the MBR to suspend benefits, using a fraud Reason for Suspension or Termination code for the TWP months involved. This suspension results in the posting of payments as an overpayment. Other systems used to control work issues in field offices or eWork, have also been modified to support this enhancement. If we determine that additional controls are needed with regard to fraud or verification of earnings, we will work to determine improvements and what role automation can play in the process. We will refer any potentially fraudulent cases identified to the OIG Office of Investigations.
OIG Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments
Rona Lawson, Director, (410) 965-8071
Ron Gunia, Audit Manager, (214) 767-6620
In addition to those named above:
Erica Turon, Program Analyst
For additional copies of this report, please visit our web site at www.ssa.gov/oig or contact the Office of the Inspector General's Public Affairs Specialist at (410) 965-3218. Refer to Common Identification Number A-06-06-16132.
Overview of the Office of the Inspector General
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is comprised of our Office of Investigations (OI), Office of Audit (OA), Office of the Chief Counsel to the Inspector General (OCCIG), and Office of Resource Management (ORM). To ensure compliance with policies and procedures, internal controls, and professional standards, we also have a comprehensive Professional Responsibility and Quality Assurance program.
Office of Audit
OA conducts and/or supervises financial and performance audits of the Social Security Administration's (SSA) programs and operations and makes recommendations to ensure program objectives are achieved effectively and efficiently. Financial audits assess whether SSA's financial statements fairly present SSA's financial position, results of operations, and cash flow. Performance audits review the economy, efficiency, and effectiveness of SSA's programs and operations. OA also conducts short-term management and program evaluations and projects on issues of concern to SSA, Congress, and the general public.
Office of Investigations
OI conducts and coordinates investigative activity related to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement in SSA programs and operations. This includes wrongdoing by applicants, beneficiaries, contractors, third parties, or SSA employees performing their official duties. This office serves as OIG liaison to the Department of Justice on all matters relating to the investigations of SSA programs and personnel. OI also conducts joint investigations with other Federal, State, and local law enforcement agencies.
Office of the Chief Counsel to the Inspector General
OCCIG provides independent legal advice and counsel to the IG on various matters, including statutes, regulations, legislation, and policy directives. OCCIG also advises the IG on investigative procedures and techniques, as well as on legal implications and conclusions to be drawn from audit and investigative material. Finally, OCCIG administers the Civil Monetary Penalty program.
Office of Resource Management
ORM supports OIG by providing information resource management and systems security. ORM also coordinates OIG's budget, procurement, telecommunications, facilities, and human resources. In addition, ORM is the focal point for OIG's strategic planning function and the development and implementation of performance measures required by the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993.