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Understanding Social Security Fraud

Social security fraud is what happens when someone knowingly receives social security funds that they are not entitled to. It can involve a number of related criminal charges that usually have serious consequences. Very often, social security fraud involves identity theft, when an individual steals someone else’s identity for the purposes of claiming social security benefits. 

There are specific laws [link below] about the unlawful claiming of social security that are punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine. Another even more serious charge associated with social security fraud is “theft of public funds.” Theft of public funds is a felony when the amount stolen is over $1000. It can be punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Social security fraud is often carried out by more than one person. People who were involved in social security fraud schemes involving more than one person can be charged with conspiracy, which is punishable according to the laws associated with the felony that the person was attempting to commit.

Social Security Fraud in Massachusetts

A recent Massachusetts case [link below] shows how social security fraud can involve more than one person who may live together. A Massachusetts woman whose mother-in-law died in 1999, continued to collect monthly social security payments with her husband on behalf of her mother in law. The checks were up to $1,300 per month. The woman’s husband died in 2019, and her attorney argued that it was her husband who was responsible for the deception. Her name, however, appeared most often on the checks cashed from her mother in law’s account, and she lied when asked if her mother-in-law was alive. She pleaded guilty in April to conspiracy and theft of public funds. 

The woman and her husband had been collecting her mother in law’s social security benefits since 1999, which adds up to a significant amount of money defrauded from the federal government. She was sentenced to two years’ probation, not prison, however. The amount in unearned benefits could merit a prison sentence, under the charge of “theft of public funds,” so how did the defendant avoid prison?

How Serious Penalties Are Avoided

When fraud or theft cases are charged, calculating the loss can have a big impact on sentencing. This can be a complicated process and can involve proving intent to defraud and the intended loss. “Restitution” is the amount the defendant often pays for the strict amount that was lost. In some cases, paying restitution before a sentencing date can subtract from the overall loss and make sentencing less harsh. The defendant apologized in court and her attorney told the court she had already paid $100,000 in restitution. She was ordered to pay $220,000 and complete two years of probation, with the first 6 months in home confinement. 

Unfortunately, people who have prepaid restitution sometimes still get significant prison sentences. There is no one cookie-cutter strategy that works with a complex crime like social security fraud that can involve multiple related charges. When you are facing any of the charges associated with security fraud it is critical that you have a highly experienced attorney by your side. Your defense needs to be watertight, considering all angles of the law.

People often commit social security fraud out of need or desperation, or simply because the benefits keep coming. For example, someone who received disability due to an accident at work can keep receiving payments even after the injury has healed. Millions of people will be losing supplemental pandemic assistance this Labor Day. [link] Some people could be tempted to get in over their head when claiming benefits they are not entitled to. Prosecutors know how to send you to jail, so you need a hard-hitting social security defense attorney who can fight back using all the opportunities the law allows. At Dhar Law, we are there to help families through difficult times. Please contact us so we can fight for you.

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Heading up the firm, Vikas Dhar is widely recognized as a leader in the New England legal community. An accomplished business litigator and a “Top 40 Under 40” criminal defense attorney, he has also been honored as a New England Super Lawyer/Rising Star in the area of White-Collar Criminal Defense for each of the past six years by Boston Magazine.

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