A Grim Trend of Collecting Government Benefits After Death
Nov 1st, 2012 | By Jen A | Category: Economics, Financial, Top Headline | Print This Article
Death doesn’t mean the end of your benefits – especially if your loved ones never report you dead.
It sounds like something out of a bad movie, but it’s becoming more common as friends and family run out of cash. Things that were once unthinkable, like keeping your mother’s body in the basement deep freeze, suddenly don’t seem like such a bad idea. After all, if no one knows she’s dead, her pension, Social Security, and dividend checks keep coming, allowing you and the rest of your living relatives to enjoy a better life.
A rising trend of fraud through unreported death
Deaths that take place outside of hospitals or nursing homes have to be manually reported to the authorities. Though Big Brother monitors millions of Americans in other ways, no one is really checking if you’re alive or dead, especially now that so many benefits delivery systems are automated. Food stamps are automatically loaded onto debit cards, Social Security is direct deposited, and pension checks are cut by computers and dropped into the mail along with thousands of other items. There’s no real person going around calling people every month to see if they’re still alive, opening a window of opportunity.
Take the older woman who was watching TV with her equally elderly gentleman friend. He died, but she kept him in her house for company – and income, cashing his Social Security checks for a year and a half. Or the bereaved man who kept his dead wife in their deep freeze for an estimated ten years, collecting her benefits until his own death. Or the son who cashed his mother’s Social Security check for twenty years before police discovered him.
The money can be substantial, or at the very least help families cross the line between abject poverty and middle-class living. The son collecting his mother’s Social Security check for twenty years had received more than $160,000 before he was discovered. A daughter in Canada collected $124,000 over ten years by not reporting her mother as deceased. These are sums that can make a real and present difference in daily life and living circumstance, especially if the money is combined with staying in the deceased’s home rent-free.
Compared to other forms of fraud and robbery, there are many who see this as a bureaucratic or victimless crime. In most cases, the deceased wasn’t murdered or mistreated before death. They simply died of naturally causes at home. Often, the bodies are well cared for and carefully preserved (albeit sometimes in the freezer). Rather than being a crime of passion, these crimes are signs of harsh realities out there for millions of people.
The numbers are staggering. In Massachusetts in 2012, the State Auditor’s Office identified more than $5.5 million in public assistance fraud – and that’s just the stuff they know about. California’s in a similar boat, with The L.A. Times reporting that some 24 percent of new welfare applications in San Diego County received between 2001 and 2009 contained some form of fraud and in fiscal year 2011, 26 percent of applications for food stamps and welfare had “discrepancies” in the data. Of course, that’s just what they’ve been able to confirm – no one denies that the numbers could be much higher.
Doing what you have to do to survive
It seems awful on one level – but very understandable on another. Many American households are barely making ends meet. No one can afford even a small drop in income, creating an incentive to take advantage of the loopholes in the system to keep collecting as much as they can from the government for as long as they can.
This incentive will grow as the economy continues to struggle. People might not feel comfortable as a mugger or a cat burglar, but cashing their parents’ Social Security checks after they pass on is a lot easier than holding up people on the street. And given that the government has screwed over the public in so many ways, it just might feel like getting a little of their own back and sticking it to the man.
Nasty, scary, and illegal though it may be, hiding a dead body from the authorities could become an even more common way of keeping food on the table. Economic security is under attack on all sides, and in the war for a family’s survival, anything goes.
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