Social Security provides valuable benefits to more than 60 million Americans. For many of them, the fixed income that Social Security pays them represents almost all of their income. It's therefore no surprise that people go to great lengths to get as much as they can from the program.
However, some people go a little too far in their efforts to maximize their Social Security. In particular, the following three scams demonstrate the truly outlandish things that some Social Security recipients have done in order to try to collect more from the federal government.
1. Lying about marital status
Social Security benefits are tied to a worker's employment history, but often, benefits are also available to spouses and other family members. Therefore, there's often an incentive for people to lie about their marital status in order to try to claim benefits.
The more common situation involves people saying that they're married when they actually aren't. By representing themselves as being married, couples can make dual claims for regular and spousal benefits under either the retirement or the disability program, double-dipping in a situation in which only one person deserves benefits.
However, there are also situations in which failing to report that you're gotten remarried can hurt you. For instance, spousal benefits from a previous marriage typically end when you marry someone else, and although you might be able to claim similar benefits based on your new spouse's work history, the amount won't always be as high. That provides an incentive not to report your remarriage.
2. Trying to keep collecting a deceased person's benefits
An even more egregious situation can arise when a Social Security recipient passes away. One recent case involved a surviving spouse who collected the deceased spouse's benefits for 23 years, never notifying the Social Security Administration about the death. It was only when the surviving spouse sought additional need-based benefits that the SSA got clued into the situation.
Failing to report the death of a Social Security recipient is tempting because the surviving spouse can keep getting two Social Security checks rather than one. Although funeral directors routinely handle these reporting requirements as part of their work, it's possible for deaths to go unreported.
3. Seeking disability benefits when you're not disabled
In order to collect Social Security disability benefits, you have to meet a number of requirements, including demonstrating that you're unable to maintain gainful employment because of your medical condition. Yet because disability benefit payments aren't always all that large, many give in to the temptation to try to work on the side for extra income. By doing so, they're often violating the rules governing those benefits.
There are special rules that allow you to try out going back to work without immediately losing your disability benefits. These rules are intended to be incentives for trying to return to the workforce. Trial work periods of up to nine months are available, but you have to go through the appropriate process to let the SSA know what you're doing.
Don't try to steal Social Security benefits
Numerous people have tried these and other schemes intended to defraud the federal government and get more in Social Security benefits. In the end, though, those who've gotten caught trying to get away with these fraudulent acts have faced large penalties, including paying back improperly received benefits, substantial additional fines, probation, or even jail time.
Social Security is an essential program for millions of people, but its success relies on recipients playing by the rules. Trying to collect benefits fraudulently isn't worth the risk and can end up costing you far more in the end.