What happens when you get accused of social-security disability fraud? The letter can literally come out of nowhere along with a notice that your check is being stopped while you're being investigated. For hundreds of social-security disability recipients caught up in a scandal in Appalachia, that's the reality that they're living—but their cases are far from unique. This is what you should know about what's happening and what to do if this happens to you.
Innocent people get caught up among scammers.
The problem for all of the disability recipients in that area who have found themselves fighting to get back their benefits started with one man, Eric C. Conn, who billed himself as "Mr. Social Security." Settled in an area of Kentucky that has only 500 people, he managed to pull in claimants from all over, virtually guaranteeing them that he could get their benefits approved. And he did—by putting doctors on his payroll and even bribing an unscrupulous administrative-law judge to rubber-stamp approvals.
Eventually, an investigation ensued, and Conn was indicted, but not before hundreds of former clients—some of whom had been on disability for decades—were sent notices that they were suspected of fraud and that the disability benefits were about to be stopped. More than half actually had their benefits stopped. Several committed suicide. The others are now represented by a band of 150 volunteer attorneys who are trying to help them.
Many of these people are legitimately disabled, but they're now in the position of having to prove their disability all over again. If their medical sources are among those that are now discredited, that leaves them with little in the way of proof that they can use to re-establish their benefits. It may take time to find appropriate medical documentation, which isn't easy when there's no income coming in.
Handling a fraud notification is tricky.
You don't have to be caught up in a major scandal to end up being accused of fraud. Unfortunately for innocent victims everywhere, the social-security system has developed a reputation of being a system rife with abuses (and cases like the Conn scandal don't help). As a result, Congress empowered the Office of the Inspector General to investigate fraud cases—which can be initiated through little more than a phone call, a letter, or an online form. It isn't hard to get caught up in a fraud investigation if you are going through a bitter divorce (even if your spouse isn't likely to accuse you of fraud, his or her relatives might) or have a dispute with your brother-in-law that's gotten out of hand.
If you're notified that your disability status is under investigation, the assumption is that you are guilty of fraud, and it's up to you to prove otherwise. Based on that assumption, your disability checks will be suspended—unless you act quickly. Unfortunately, the notices people receive are somewhat confusing. While you have 60 days to appeal the cessation of your benefits based on fraud (which is akin to admitting to the accusation and would require you to file your claim all over again from scratch if you want to try to collect again), you only have 10 days to ask for your benefits to continue while the fraud determination is made. That part of the notice is somewhat buried beneath the information about the 60-day right of appeal, which often misleads people into believing they have longer to act than they really do.
If you've been accused of disability fraud, consider contacting an attorney, such as one from Diamond Law Offices, as soon as possible. It is possible to fight charges of disability fraud, but this likely isn't something that you should try to handle on your own.