It is important to report public assistance fraud so that people who violate the rules of social services can be stopped. Many seniors ask “How can I report public assistance fraud?” if they see suspicious activity in their communities. There are a variety of methods for reporting public assistance fraud, which can vary by city and state. Some incidents should be brought to the attention of local public assistance offices, while others may be handled better by the federal departments that run social services. No matter where a senior sees or hears about fraudulent public assistance activity, it is important not to ignore it. While there may be a public assistance reward program for certain social services, it is important to report fraud simply because this helps maintain the integrity of social services. Below, learn about the penalties for public assistance fraud and discover what seniors can do to help prevent the misuse of social service programs.
When is reporting public assistance fraud necessary?
Before learning how you can report public assistance fraud, it is helpful to learn what counts as fraudulent use of a social service program. Penalties for public assistance fraud can be assessed for programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. There are specific ways that people can commit public assistance fraud in each of these programs. However, regardless of the program, certain actions almost always count as fraud. A senior should report public assistance fraud when they are aware of a beneficiary who:
- Lies on an application for assistance.
- Withholds information in order to receive undeserved benefits.
- Fails to update household information.
- Does not report every source of income.
- Sells or trades benefits from a social service.
- Spends benefits on prohibited items or services.
In most cases, it is necessary to report public assistance fraud for individuals who violate the rules of SNAP, TANF or other programs. However, there are also penalties for public assistance fraud when retailers and other vendors violate the program rules. Some retail stores may knowingly participate in fraudulent activity by allowing people to buy prohibited items with their benefits. Retail stores and other vendors can also lie on applications in order to participate in programs after being disqualified.
Reasons to Report Public Assistance Fraud
When seniors report public assistance fraud for any of the violations listed above, they help programs reach their true goals. Reporting fraud in public assistance programs ensures that more people who genuinely need help can receive it from these programs. Not only does fraud negatively affect people who need public assistance, it also harms the economy. People who abuse social services waste taxpayer money, which can lead to higher taxes for everyone. Public assistance fraud penalties serve as a deterrent for repeat offenders. Seniors who report program abuse can help ensure that violators are barred from public assistance programs in the future. Learn more about the penalties that violators may face by downloading our comprehensive guide to public assistance programs for seniors.
While it is best to report public assistance fraud because it keeps social programs working efficiently, there may be rewards for reporting fraud as well. Note that there are usually no reward programs for public assistance fraud from the federal government. As an exception, you may be rewarded for reporting Medicare fraud. Some states may have their own program in place as well. Such programs are usually not well-advertised due to the fact that rewards could encourage false fraud reports. Be aware that your public assistance fraud tip may need to lead to a conviction in order for you to be eligible for a payment. Furthermore, rewards for seniors reporting public assistance fraud are usually only granted if you identify yourself when making a report. Anonymous tips generally do not lead to rewards.
How do seniors report public assistance fraud?
To report welfare fraud, you may start at the local level or make a report to whichever federal department is in charge of the program in question. When you report public assistance fraud, you can expect your claim to be taken seriously. Abuse of government funds is an important issue, and all legitimate reports are investigated thoroughly. With that in mind, it is important not to make false claims. People who knowingly accuse others of welfare fraud may be penalized if the claim turns out to be false.
Reporting public assistance fraud requires that seniors contact the correct agency or department. Seniors may report welfare fraud by getting in touch with the federal departments that administer food stamps, cash assistance and other public assistance programs. It is also possible to report fraud to local benefit offices. Fraud investigations are easier to conduct when seniors report as much information as possible, such as:
- Who is involved in the fraud.
- When and where the incident took place.
- What the suspicious activity was.
- How the incident was discovered.
When seniors report welfare fraud, they may choose to remain anonymous. However, those who report public assistance fraud may be able to help the investigation by providing their contact information. If investigators need additional information or clarifications, they may contact seniors with questions. However, people who make reports should not expect to be updated on the status of an investigation. Learn more about reporting fraud by downloading our guide to public assistance for seniors.