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U.S. government weighs social-media snooping to detect Social Security fraud

  March 29, 2019 | By Mark Miller, Reuters

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Getting followed on social media could soon gain a new meaning for workers applying for Social Security disability benefits. The Trump administration is working on a plan to let the Social Security Administration (SSA) check up on claimants on Facebook and Twitter in order to root out fraud and abuse in the disability program.

It is the latest move in a push by critics of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) to crack down on alleged fraud and abuse. Conservatives have long argued that cheating is rampant in the program, and in recent years convinced Congress to fund expanded efforts by the SSA on anti-fraud efforts.

The idea of social media surveillance is getting a push from the conservative Heritage Foundation. Such monitoring already is done in some fraud and abuse investigations. For example, in 2014, the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) utilized social media reviews to help arrest more than 100 people who defrauded SSDI out of millions of dollars. Investigators found photos on the personal accounts of disability claimants riding on jet skis, performing physical stunts in karate studios and driving motorcycles.

The SSA now is looking at expanding social media monitoring capability to front-line agency staff who work with claimants in the initial stages, before any investigations have been initiated.

The idea already is drawing fire from disability advocates. They argue that social media profiles can offer misleading evidence, since dates when photos were shot are not always clear and because not all legitimate disabilities prevent participation in activities that might seem suspicious.

“The proposal to allow disability adjudicators to monitor or review social media of disability claimants is an unjustified invasion of privacy unlikely to uncover fraud,” said Lisa Ekman, director of government affairs at the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives.

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