In my Sep 29, 2015 blog post, What Happens to Your SSA Disability Benefits When You Die?, I detailed the consequences the unfortunate event has on your SSA benefits. I also warned the survivors or significant others that they would need to report their loved one’s passing to the SSA immediately, or else.
Well, in today’s blog I thought I would provide some real world examples of what happens to those people who don’t report the death and instead continue to receive the SSA benefits meant for the deceased.
Social Security Collection Fraud
Recently, a case made headlines about an individual who is actually going to jail for continuing to collect her mother’s monthly SSA benefits, totaling some $300,000, since her death in 1998.
Apparently, Sandra Sarnowski, 65, of Troy, Michigan failed to report her mother’s passing in order to continue to fraudulently receive and cash the ill-gotten benefits and, accordingly, it is going to cost her some jail time and money. Last month, U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith sentenced her to a year and a day in prison and she will also have to pay the benefits back plus interest. In addition, she also surrendered a vacation property she owned in an effort to put a dent in the numbers.
Sarnowski was busted as a result of the Centenarian Project, which is a program the SSA instituted back in 2013, to check that centenarians (people around 100 years old) who are receiving benefits are actually still alive. It’s a good place to start but that’s really only the tip of the iceberg, as there are a far, far greater number of people out there below the age of 100 receiving benefits which may be being purloined by their survivors or significant others fraudulently.
While Sarnowski was caught, she was an outlier, as many of the news stories about the case noted how unusual it was for someone to actually end up in jail. It appears that the case of Akili Owens is more of the norm. While he also continued to fraudulently receive and cash his grandmother’s benefits after her death in 2004, to the tune of some $122,000, he only received probation and community service, still painful consequences.
So, the lesson learned is that Social Security fraud does not pay.
If you or your child have been denied SSA disability benefits or suffer from a severe impairment that is expected to last more than twelve months and that prevents you from doing any of your past or other work or is causing developmental delay in your child, please contact our office nearest to you to set up a free consultation appointment to discuss your situation.
James Ezzell is an attorney at the Bond & Botes Law Offices in Huntsville, Alabama. He holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Alabama, and a Juris Doctorate from the Mississippi College School of Law. James prides himself in working and winning SSA Disability cases for people truly in need of his help. Read his full bio here.