Former municipal official sentenced to probation for Social Security fraud

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A former municipal official in New Jersey was recently spared a prison term despite collecting Social Security benefits paid to his wife for more than four years after her death.

“Brian Unger was sentenced Monday to two years of probation. He also must pay $82,854 in restitution,” an article by U.S. News reads. “Unger, a former Long Branch city councilman who now lives in Puerto Rico, had pleaded guilty in October to a theft charge.

Read more: White Collar Crime Lawyer in New Jersey

According to federal prosecutors, Unger’s wife started collecting Social Security disability benefits in 2008, but she passed away a year later. Unger reportedly continued to collect her benefits and use them for personal expenses until October of 2013.

Social Security benefits typically last as long as you live, provide valuable protection against outliving savings and other sources of retirement income. A variety of situations may be considered fraud, waste, or abuse against Social Security though.

Some examples of fraud include, but are not limited to:

  • Making false statements on claims

When people apply for Social Security Benefits, they state that all information they provide on the forms are true and correct to the best of their knowledge. If a person reports something they know is not true, it may be a crime.

  • Concealing facts or events that affect eligibility for social security benefits

It may be considered fraud if a person makes a false statement on an application or does not tell SSA of certain facts that may affect benefits.

  • Misuse of benefits

Sometimes, people who receive Social Security Benefits are not able to handle their own financial affairs. In those cases, SSA appoints a relative, friend, or another individual or organization to handle their Social Security matters. It may be a crime if a Representative Payee or anyone else misuses a person’s Social Security Benefits.

With almost 60 million people in the U.S. receiving some form of Social Security benefits, either through retirement or disability, fraud is inevitable. The SSA ranks third among government agencies when it comes to improper payments, including fraud. The total of estimated improper SSA payments in 2015 was $9.8 billion. Retirement, survivors and disability insurance made up about $5 billion of that amount, while supplemental security income accounted for the remaining $4.8 billion.

In addition, the use of fake or stolen Social Security numbers to obtain fraudulent tax refunds from the Internal Revenue Service was expected to cost taxpayers up to $21 billion in 2016, according to the agency itself. That’s up from 6.5 billion in 2014.

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