You may have heard that the Social Security Administration will investigate you if you are applying for or receiving Social Security disability benefits. While it is unlikely that Social Security will hire a private investigator or search through your online and social media presence, this could very well happen if a red flag has been raised as to the validity of your claim. Maybe someone filed a complaint or your treating medical professionals have raised some suspicions about your disability. If so, you could be referred for what is called a “cooperative disability investigation,” or CDI.
CDI is a joint initiative involving the Social Security Administration (SSA), the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), state Disability Determination Services (DDS), and various State and local law enforcement agencies. The primary goal of a CDI is to uncover potential cases of Social Security Disability claim fraud.
The process typically begins with a referral from the DDS or SSA to the CDI Unit. Fraud referrals also come from SSA’s Office of Hearings Operations, private citizens, anonymous sources, and other law enforcement agencies. Cases of Social Security Disability fraud can involve malingering (exaggeration or faking illness to avoid work), filing multiple applications, concealing work or other activities, and otherwise exaggerating or lying about disabilities.
The CDI Unit Team Leader screens the referral. If it accepts the case, the Team Leader will work with the state or local law enforcement members of the team to investigate the allegation by interviewing the applicant and third parties and/or conducting surveillance of the applicant. Sometimes the investigators will speak to the applicant undercover, maybe under the guise of a person asking for directions, to see how the applicant interacts with strangers when they do not suspect they are being evaluated. Other times, the investigator may simply follow the applicant and watch them from a distance to observe their movements and activities.
Social media can also be a valuable resource for these kinds of investigations. While Social Security may approach social media data with trepidation, as posts can often be a poor reflection of the reality of a person’s situation, it can still be used to see if you are acting in ways that are counterintuitive to a person with the disabling condition you are claiming for benefits purposes.
Upon completion of the investigation, a report is sent to DDS, where DDS staff serves as the ultimate decision-making entity in determining whether a person is eligible to receive a monthly disability benefit payment. Or, if the claim is brought in front of an administrative law judge for a disability hearing, the judge will review the CDI report as part of the evidence in the case. If the individual being investigated is already receiving benefits, DDS and/or SSA will determine whether their benefits should be continued or terminated. In some cases, there is a possibility of criminal prosecution or the imposition of civil monetary penalties or administrative sanctions.
A CDI is not necessarily hurtful to your claim as long as you were honest in filling out your Social Security paperwork and testifying at your hearing. However, it is important to be mindful of the information you share on the internet and social media, as well as when you are talking to others, such as your doctor. Remember that any statements you make, or activities you engage in, may become evidence in your disability claim.
By: Devon Brady of Premier Disability Services, LLC®