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Social Security

Social Security System (“SSS”)

The Social Security Act (“SSA”) is a federal law that was passed in 1935. This law created a program called the The Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program, or OASDI. OASDI is the technical name for the Social Security program, although many refer to it simply as social security. This program, which is run by the federal government, provides social security benefits to eligible individuals. Additionally, the program is funded by the withholding of social security taxes from current employees' paychecks.

Social security is often referred to as a “pay as you go” system. What this means is that the program pays benefits from funds collected from working people. When these working people retire, their benefits will be paid out of the funds that have been collected from individuals who are working at that time.

Social security benefits are available for four types of individuals:

  • Retirees;
  • Disabled individuals;
  • Individuals who are eligible for supplemental security income; and
  • Individuals whose spouses passed away while receiving social security benefits.

In short, the purpose of the social security system is to:

  • Provide for the material needs of both families and individuals;
  • Protect senior and/or disabled people against the various expenses of illnesses that could otherwise deplete their finances and savings;
  • Keep families together whenever possible; and
  • Provide children with an additional opportunity to grow up healthy and financially secure.

Some examples of the programs that are included under the SSA and related laws include, but are not limited to:

  • Retirement, survivors, and disability insurance;
  • Hospital and medical insurance for the aged, disabled, and those experiencing end-stage renal disease;
  • Prescription drug benefits, as well as additional assistance with Medicare prescription drug costs;
  • Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”); and
  • Public assistance and welfare services, such as child support enforcement and food stamps.

What Is an SSN, and Does Everyone Have a Social Security Number?

A social security number is a nine-digit number that is issued to American citizens, generally when they are born. However, a social security number may also be issued to permanent residents as well as temporary residents, pursuant to section 205 of the Social Security Act. It was originally intended to track the earnings history of U.S. workers for social security benefits. A social security number is now used as a universal identifier for a person's records.

Having a social security number is necessary in order to claim tax benefits, as well as to perform a number of other activities. An example of this would be how if you want to claim your child as a dependent on your income tax return, you need a social security number to do so. The child must have a social security number if you plan on:

  • Buying savings bonds for the child;
  • Opening a bank account for the child;
  • Obtaining health insurance for the child; and/or
  • Applying for government benefits for the child.

In terms of age requirements, there is no official age by which a person must obtain a social security number. However, those who work and who are 18 or over must have one. This is because their employer is required to report their income to the IRS, which is done by using the social security number.

Individuals may receive a social security card before they turn 18, as many parents obtain the card for their children when the child is born. When parents provide information to the hospital for completion of the birth certificate, the hospital will ask if the parent wishes to apply for a social security number for the baby. Parents who wish to do so must usually provide both parent's social security numbers.

Alternatively, a parent may apply for a children's number at their local Social Security Office. This requires completing a social security card application and presenting sufficient proof in the form of documentation that shows the child is a citizen. This proof must also verify the child's age and identity.

Those who are aged twelve years and older may request a social security number for themselves. SSA will schedule an in-person interview for them, and they must complete the interview as well as provide any required documentation. 

Examples of Social Security Benefits

Social security benefits are a specific type of monetary benefits provided by the Social Security Association (“SSA”). Some examples of common social security benefits include:

  • Retirement Benefits: Those who retire after reaching the age of 62 are entitled to retirement benefits. The amount of money that a person receives is directly related to the amount of income made over the course of their working life. As such, the later you file for retirement benefits, the larger those benefits will be, up until the age of seventy;
  • Disability Benefits: If a person becomes disabled before reaching retirement age, they may be eligible for disability benefits. These benefits are roughly equal to what a person's retirement benefits would have been;
  • Supplemental Security Income: SSI benefits are available to those who did not earn much income over the course of their working lives, but are still in need of financial assistance. Supplemental security income is only available to those who are over the age of sixty-five, or are disabled or blind;
  • Survivor's Benefits: If your spouse is deceased, and they would otherwise be entitled to retirement or disability benefits, it is possible for you to receive the social security benefits on behalf of the decedent; and
  • Surviving Child Benefits: Similar to survivor's benefits, surviving child benefits are also available for a biological child, adopted child, or step-child when their parent dies.

Common Legal Issues Associated with Social Security Benefits

There can be many different legal issues associated with social security benefits, which vary according to the type of benefits in question. Generally speaking, disputes arise from the distribution of benefits, as well as the denial of benefits. Some examples of the most common legal issues associated with social security benefits include:

  • Eligibility for Social Security: In order to be eligible to receive any sort of social security benefits, you must meet certain criteria, such as being a certain age. Disputes regarding eligibility for social security benefits are common. Additionally, you may only receive one type of benefits; meaning, you could not receive both disability and retirement benefits, although you may qualify for both; 
  • Social Security Survivor Benefits: As previously mentioned, upon the death of an insured and working person, certain family members are eligible for Social Security survivor benefits. Disputes related to survivor benefits generally involve collecting benefits, or limits placed on who can collect what amount; and
  • Social Security Fraud: Social security fraud can come in many forms, and are generally considered to be criminal actions. Making false statements or claims, standard of conduct violations, and failing to disclose facts that affect eligibility are some examples of social security fraud. Another common legal issue associated with social security fraud is identity theft.

Denied Social Security Benefits

Those who apply for social security benefits may have their application denied by the Social Security Administration. However, those who are denied have the right to appeal that denial. The appeal process is generally as follows:

  • Reconsideration: A person may request reconsideration if they have been denied benefits, which will initiate a complete review. The review will be conducted by someone who played no part in the initial decision. During reconsideration, Social Security examines the original application, as well as any new evidence;
  • Hearing By an Administrative Law Judge: Should you disagree with the reconsideration decision, you can request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. Before the hearing takes place, Social Security may request that you submit additional evidence, or clarify certain claim information. At the hearing, the judge will question you and any witnesses, including medical witnesses. The hearing is generally conducted in person; as such, claimants who are unable or unwilling to attend an in-person hearing must notify Social Security. Once the hearing is concluded, the judge will render a decision regarding the social security case; and/or
  • Lawsuit Against the Social Security Administration: If you do not agree with the judge's decision, you may then file a lawsuit in federal court against the Social Security Administration.

Causes of Denied Social Security Claim

One of the biggest issues related to social security benefits is the denial of benefits. Denial is not at all uncommon, and a claim for benefits can be denied for several reasons. Reasons for denial vary based on the type of social security benefits you may have been attempting to obtain. Examples include:

  • Retirement Benefits: You will likely be denied retirement benefits if you do not meet the minimum age requirement; or, you indicated that you have never worked in a job in which you paid U.S. Social Security taxes;
  • Surviving Spouse: Denial of surviving spouse benefits includes if you do not meet the minimum age requirement, or you were never married. Another example of cause for denial would be if you remarried before reaching the age of 60;
  • Child: Children may sometimes receive their parent's social security benefits. You would be denied if your parent is not deceased, nor are they receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits. Another reason for denial would be if you are over the age of 18 and you are not in high school, nor are you disabled;
  • Disability: Denial of disability benefits could occur if you are over full retirement age, or if you indicated that you are not disabled. Another reason would be if you indicated that you have never worked in a job in which you paid U.S. Social Security taxes, similar to denial of retirement benefits;
  • Supplemental Security Income: You will be denied SSI benefits if you are not 65 years of age; you are not disabled or blind; or, your income or assets are above the SSI limits. Other reasons would include that you are not a U.S. citizen (or lawfully admitted non-citizen), you do not live in the U.S. or the Northern Mariana Islands, or that you live in a jail or other correctional facility; and
  • Medicare: Medicare benefit denial will occur if you are not 65 years of age, or if you are already receiving Social Security disability benefits.

If your claim is denied, you may be entitled to pursue the appeals process. This process is generally as follows:

  • Reconsideration: Local social security officers will review your claim. If they choose to still deny benefits, you may have an administrative law hearing;
  • Administrative Law Hearing: An administrative judge independently reviews your claim to determine if your denial should be overturned. Should the administrative judge deny your claim, you may wish to appeal to the National Social Security Appeals Council;
  • National Social Security Appeals Council: This council will review your claim, and their ruling is final. If the appeals council upholds the denial, and you believe you are entitled to benefits, you will need to take legal action; and
  • Sue the Social Security Administration: You can sue the social security administration in federal court. However, you must first complete the aforementioned steps.

Social Security Fraud

Social Security fraud, in general, involves obtaining something valuable through willful misrepresentation. In terms of Social Security, fraud occurs when an individual with the intent to defraud makes, or causes to be made, a false statement, or conceals, misrepresents, or files to disclose a material fact for use in a determination of rights under the Social Security Act.

Examples of fraud may include:

  • False statements or claims;
  • Concealment of facts or events that affect eligibility;
  • Non-disclosure of important facts that affect eligibility;
  • A representative payee that is not properly using benefits; 
  • Failure to notify the SSA of the death of a beneficiary and receiving their benefits after their death; 
  • Filing a claim under another individual's SSN; 
  • Scamming individuals by impersonating a SSA employee; 
  • Bribing a SSA employee; 
  • The misuse of grant or contract funds; or
  • Purchasing or selling Social Security cards or Social Security Administration information.

Other kinds of violations may involve the mismanagement or waste of funds or a standard of conduct violation. 

The most common type of Social Security fraud is one that many individuals are familiar with, identity theft. Identity theft includes the theft or misuse of an individual's Social Security number and other information. This information is typically used to illegally obtain benefits. For example, a common scam is for a scammer to call an individual over the phone and pose as a Social Security Administration employee, and ask for their Social Security number (SSN).

Preventing Social Security Fraud

There are steps an individual can take to reduce their risk of becoming a victim of Social Security fraud. An individual should:

  • Only provide their your Social Security number when absolutely necessary; 
  • Pay special attention to their Social Security Personal Earnings and Benefits Estimate Statement; and
  • Check their credit report annually.

There are many circumstances, including online shopping, where an individual may be unnecessarily asked to provide their SSN. It is absolutely acceptable for an individual to ask why their SSN is being requested. It is also an option to inquire whether or not there is an alternative means of providing identification other than the SSN.

An individual's Social Security Personal Earnings and Benefits Estimate Statement is automatically mailed to them three months prior to their birthday. An individual can also contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) for a free report. If the report appears to contain wrong information, immediately contact the SSA. It may indicate fraud.

Another way individuals can protect themselves from identity theft is to check their credit report. An individual can obtain one free credit report each year. It should be reviewed for any signs of identity theft. While Social Security benefit information may not be included on a credit report, it is still a great place to start to ensure there is no fraudulent activity using an individual's SSN.

Other steps an individual can take to prevent Social Security fraud include:

  • Not carrying their Social Security card regularly;
  • Not saying their SSN aloud in public; and
  • Being aware of scams attempting to obtain their SSN, such as phone and email scams.

What To Do If I am the Victim of Social Security Fraud?

If an individual believes they may be the victim of Social Security fraud, they should immediately contact the SSA. An individual should report any illegal use of their SSN or benefits. When an individual contacts the SSA, they will be asked to provide:

  • Name;
  • SSN;
  • Date of Birth;
  • Address; and
  • Telephone number.

It is important to note that while any information provided to the SSA will mostly be kept confidential, the SSA may be required to share an individual's information with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in cases of identity theft. An individual's information, however, will only be used to combat the identity theft and will not be distributed to any members of the public.

The SSA does not tolerate fraud. They investigate and prosecute individuals who commit fraud against their programs. The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) investigates allegations of Social Security fraud. Cases may be referred to United States attorneys in the Department of Justice, or other state and local prosecutors for prosecution as federal crimes.

Steps That I Can Take if My Identity has been Stolen

There are steps an individual should immediately take if they believe their identity has been stolen or their SSN is being used fraudulently. An individual can place a credit freeze on their SSN. This means credit reporting companies cannot release an individual's information to a third party. It prevents a lender from issuing new credit based on what is in the individual's file. An individual must initiate a freeze with each of the 3 major reporting agencies and it is now a free service.

An individual may also place a fraud alert on their credit file. This means a creditor will be required to take extra steps to verify the identity of the individual requesting credit prior to proceeding with the transaction. An individual only has to request a fraud alert at one credit reporting company, and it will automatically apply to the other two. A fraud alert can be used in conjunction with a credit freeze.

A third option an individual may consider is a credit lock. This is similar to a credit freeze but usually includes a monthly fee. Additionally, federal and state laws regulate credit freezes but a credit lock is a contract between the individual and the credit bureau. Because of this, a credit freeze is likely a better option.

An individual may also report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on their website at Here, an individual can report identity theft, obtain a recovery plan, and obtain an identity theft report. The individual will be required to answer questions regarding their situation. They can use the website to create a personal recovery plan. The website will outline each recovery step, update their plan when necessary, track their progress, and even pre-fill out forms and letters. If an individual has any questions about the process, they can contact an attorney who will gladly assist them.

An individual may also file a police report regarding identity theft. They will need their FTC identity theft report, a form of identification, and proof of the identity theft. It is important to request a copy of the report once it is completed.

How Can A Lawyer Help Me With My Social Security Issues?

136 Birch Dr, Blakeslee, PA Social security matters can quickly become complicated. If you are experiencing issues associated with social security, especially if you believe you have been wrongfully denied benefits, you should consult with an experienced local social security administration attorney or a social security lawyer.

An attorney can help you file a claim and gather evidence to support your case. Finally, an attorney will also be able to represent you at any appeal hearings, administrative hearings, or in court. It is important to have an experienced social security attorney helping with any Social Security fraud issues. An attorney that specializes in civil lawsuits involving fraud may be especially helpful. You may be able to recoup losses incurred as a result of identity theft. 

An attorney will be able to review your case, advise you of your rights, and help you decide the best course of action going forward. Identity theft may affect more than just your Social Security income, so it is important to have help protecting your rights.

Call our office today at 212-994-7777 or complete the convenient online contact form to set up a consultation.