Government public assistance, or welfare, is available in this country to people who demonstrate a need based on financial situation. If you lie about your income in order to receive benefits, fail to report all your income, or fail to report changes to your income, you may be accused of welfare fraud.
The biggest difference between welfare fraud and simple error is that to charge you with fraud, the government has reason to suspect that you have intentionally or deliberately given false information or withheld information in order to obtain welfare. When you apply for welfare, the Department of Social and Health Services (DHHS) will ask questions about your situation in order to determine eligibility. They will also ask you to report any changes to your income as they occur, and will occasionally check to verify your income. If the government detects any discrepancies, it may investigate to determine whether there has been an overpayment.
WHAT IF THERE IS AN OVERPAYMENT?
If there is sufficient reason to believe the overpayment was due to a mistake on your part, the government may simply ask you to pay back the difference. But if the government may determine the overpayment was intentional if you were aware of what you needed to report, and when you needed to report it, but chose not to do so given the opportunity. If the evidence is sufficient enough, they may choose to charge you with welfare fraud.
WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES FOR WELFARE FRAUD?
That depends on such factors as the details surrounding the case, as well as the amount overpaid. The penalty can be as mild as repaying the overpaid amount, or as severe as large fines and prison time. Also, depending on the situation, welfare fraud can also come with additional charges such as theft and perjury.
WHAT DO I DO IF I AM SUSPECTED OF WELFARE FRAUD?
Typically, the government will begin with an investigation overseen by a “Fraud Early Detection” (FRED) investigator. If you receive notice from the government that you are being investigated, you should contact an attorney right away. You do not have to speak to the FRED investigator without an attorney present, nor do you have to allow the FRED investigator into your home unless they present a warrant. You should not give any additional information to the government without consulting an attorney first. For expert legal counsel concerning welfare fraud and other legal issues, call the Federal Criminal Law Center at 404-633-3797.