by Alissa C. Atkins, Esq.

A front page article in the New York Times on January 8, 2014 covered a massive fraud investigation in Manhattan that resulted in the arrest of 106 people over claims of disability fraud. The Manhattan District Attorney brought charges against numerous police officers and firemen, many of whom had served on September 11, 2001. Those arrested included an attorney as well as two investigators who worked for him, and 72 police officers along with eight firefighters. The attorney and pension workers were arrested for assisting the firefighters and police with committing fraud, by coaching them to falsify claims of post-traumatic stress disorder or other psychiatric and physical disabilities, resulting in the retired workers being granted Social Security Disability benefits. The indictment confirmed that a large majority of those arrested had been coached on how to act when they met with psychiatrists or psychologists examining them on behalf of the Social Security Disability Administration. The applicants were told how to act so that they appeared depressed, and many of the applications used virtually the same wording. This led an alert analyst at the Social Security Disability Administration to call for an investigation, which ultimately resulted in the indictments.

Much of the method of the investigation described above can be used in conjunction with the investigation of any reported claim. In addition to wiretapping, the District Attorney made his case by reviewing social media pages such as Facebook, where many of the applicants who were receiving Social Security Disability benefits referenced various sporting events in which they participated, as well as other very physical activities that made it clear that the applicants were not in fact disabled. For example, one applicant who received benefits for a diagnosis of PTSD and physical disabilities opened his own martial arts studio. Other recipients of Social Security Disability benefits were shown flying helicopters, riding motorcycles, fishing, or participating in activities requiring physical abilities that the applicants professed not to have.

During your initial investigation of any claim, you can consider evaluating a claimant’s Facebook page, as well as LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social media sites. A simple Google search can often uncover significant information about a claimant that can be used both to identify a claimant and also to secure a better picture of the individual, including his or her interests and skills. Even if the person is not acting in a fraudulent manner, investigating the extent to which a claimant has continued to participate in these activities allows insight into the mind of the claimant, as well as the extent to which he or she is in fact physically disabled.

Should you have any questions with how to conduct internet research about your claimants, please do not hesitate to contact us.