Social security fraud occurs when a person wrongfully applies for or receives benefits from the Social Security system or uses the system illegally for personal gain. A person or organization commits social security fraud when they knowingly and willfully give false information, conceal facts, or use a social security number unlawfully. Social security fraud may involve retirement, disability, Medicare, or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) claims. People can report social security fraud to the Office of the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration.

Acts of social security fraud

A variety of situations may constitute social security fraud. Examples include:

Making false statements. A person states as fact something untrue, such as claiming to be single when married.

Concealing a beneficiary's death or other facts. A person doesn't tell the Social Security Administration (SSA) when a beneficiary dies and continues to cash the beneficiary's checks.

Misusing a beneficiary's funds . A person or organization (e.g., nursing home) appointed by SSA to handle social security funds for an incapacitated beneficiary uses the money for personal expenses or continues to receive social security for a beneficiary no longer under his or her care.

Identity theft. A person uses the social security number of another person to obtain credit, loans, and other goods and services.

Buying, selling, or altering social security cards. A person or organization illegally sells social security cards or impersonates an SSA official.

How to report social security fraud

If you suspect a person or organization of social security fraud, contact the Office of the Inspector General at SSA. You can contact the office by mail or phone, or call SSA's Fraud Hotline (1-800-269-0271). Cases of identity theft should be reported to the Federal Trade Commission.

It's important to provide as much information as possible about the suspect, beneficiary, and incident or incidents. Your information will be shared with law enforcement officials or other agencies if necessary to complete the investigation of the fraud.

If you are accused of social security fraud

Social security fraud can be a crime. Depending on the nature of the case, it may be considered a misdemeanor (lesser criminal act) or felony (serious crime). Penalties can include a fine, imprisonment of up to five years, or both. Guilty parties may also have to pay restitution to the Commissioner of the SSA or to a beneficiary whose benefits were misused.

It's critical to hire an experienced defense lawyer if you are accused of social security fraud. The government will more than likely embark on an aggressive prosecution. A lawyer will protect your rights, explore all possible legal options, and advocate for you.

Additional resources:

Social Security Administration: Fraud Topic Fact Sheets

Social Security Administration: Penalty for Fraud (one of several sections addressing fraud in the Social Security Act)

U.S. Department of Justice: Social Security Fraud