SSA Acting Commissioner: Fraudsters Beware

“Our message to those who attempt to defraud Social Security is plain: We will find you, we will prosecute you, we will seek the maximum punishment under the law, and we will fight to restore the money you have stolen from the American people,” says the acting commissioner of the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA), Carolyn W. Colvin, during the Tuesday morning General Session.

In 1970, she says, 9.7 percent of the U.S. population was 65 or older. In 2010, the percentage was 13 percent and by 2030 it will be 20 percent. “This shift obviously means increased reliance on Social Security programs, making protection of these resources ever more important,” Colvin says.

“So who is committing — or attempting to commit — fraud against our Social Security programs?” she asked.

The culprits include fraudsters who file false applications to claim nonexistent medical conditions or to receive benefits for a deceased family member.

Scams, Colvin says, also include stealing Social Security numbers, and diverting family members’ or strangers’ checks.

Third-party facilitator fraud is the most complicated and challenging to identify and prove, Colvin says. “Third-party facilitators assist individuals in the disability claims process and may include licensed medical professionals, attorneys, non-attorney representatives, interpreters and social workers,” she says.

The SSA uses a multi-layered approach to combat fraud, Colvin says. “One challenge we face with electronic services is ensuring that the persons doing online business are who they say they are. The agency employs a wide variety of safeguards to authenticate users and to prevent fraud.”

Colvin says that in addition to verifying information in our internal records the SSA contracts with an external authentication service provider — a credit-reporting agency — to supply “challenge” questions that help assure a higher level of confidence in users’ identities.

“Our authentication process includes mailing a notice to the verified address immediately following every online account creation, requesting people to contact us if they did not create the account,” she says.

The SSA also provides the option of using a second factor in the login process such as entering a code that the agency texts to the user’s cellphone.

Colvin says that the SSA uses anti-fraud tools to review data. “Through automated and query-generated inquiries, utilizing preset and adaptable triggers, SSA will identify anomalous behaviors of all those who have contact with the agency as they input data or otherwise influence our systems and processes,” she says.

The agency provides mandatory training to all SSA and disability determination service employees on preventing and detecting fraud, Colvin says. Twenty-eight Cooperative Disability Investigation (CDI) units in 24 states and Puerto Rico resolve suspected fraud before benefits are paid, she says. According to the agency’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), CDI units have produced savings of more than $860 million in the last three years.

“In 2014, [the SSA] Office of Inspector General received 121,210 allegations of fraud, including more than 58,000 allegations from agency employees,” Colvin says. (The agency has funded new referral fraud hotlines and disseminated information to employees about whistleblower laws and protection, she says.)

In 2014, OIG agents closed nearly 8,000 criminal investigations, which resulted in more than 500 arrests, more than 1,200 indictments, nearly 1,300 criminal convictions and more than 400 civil judgments or civil monetary penalty assessments, she says.

“Thank you for all the work you do,” Colvin says. “Your extensive anti-fraud training, education, annual Reports to the Nations, and conferences such as this one, are just a few of the ways you as individuals and as a collective, help to create a culture of awareness in our country and globally, so that fraud is recognized as the insidious and corrosive element we know it to be.”