Lawmakers want SSA to check disability applicants’ social media accounts

Over the past decade, social media use has become pervasive in nearly every aspect of life. Now, if some lawmakers have their way, it could play into how Social Security Administration personnel investigate Social Security Disability claims.

Officials worried that photos and posts could be taken out of context

One of the recent cases of disability fraud that sparked a renewed interest in the subject for lawmakers involved hundreds of firefighters and law enforcement officers who had claimed disability benefits, but were later found pictured in online photos engaging in sport-fishing trips, personal watercraft rides and, in one instance, flying a helicopter. These are not the type of activities disabled individuals would be expected to participate in, and the photos conflicted with statements in disability applications saying that the claimants could not participate in such activities. Further investigation revealed a widespread fraud.

In another recent scandal, two administrative law judges were accused of making thousands of fraudulent disability determinations. Over six years, one of the judges approved 99.7 percent of the SSD cases that came before him, awarding a lifetime total of $2.5 billion in disability benefits to 8,413 individuals.

Spurred by these incidents, in early April the two U.S. Representatives heading the subcommittee on health care of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee called for measures that would allow SSA employees to view the social media profiles of anyone applying for disability benefits. Photos and other information posted to social media accounts, they reasoned, could reveal that some SSD applicants are in fact able-bodied. The lawmakers also want SSA staff to go back and make period checks of SSD beneficiaries' social media profiles, known as "continuing disability reviews."

The SSA has refused to permit its investigators to use social media many times in the past. The agency says that its claims judges are not properly trained to evaluate information obtained from social media. Indeed, a single photo or social media posting taken out of context could undercut a disability applicant's claim for benefits, even if it was not accurately indicative of the applicant's ability to work.

Under the current system of review that does not include SSA scrutiny on social media, very few instances of disability fraud are recorded. Between 2010 and 2012, the SSA's review office flagged less than one case out of every 20,000 disability applications for suspicion of fraud.

Keep photos offline and contact a Social Security Disability lawyer to ensure a successful claim

While the SSA is not currently checking social media as part of its disability claim review process, it could at some point in the future, and you should always exercise common sense when controlling your social media presence. If you are seeking disability benefits, keep posts and pictures that could imply you were engaged in vigorous physical activity off your profile.

To learn more about disability benefits and to give yourself the best chance at a successful claim, bring your case to a Social Security Disability lawyer today.