If you receive some form of public assistance, known as "welfare," you already know that you are required to report changes to your income, living arrangements, and financial resources that could affect your entitlement to benefits. What happens, then, when you've followed the rules but suddenly find out that you're suspected of welfare fraud? This is what you should know.
How could this happen to you?
Welfare authorities are required to monitor the records of everybody who receives public assistance. They look at the information that you put on applications and check state and federal databases (like income tax records) for discrepancies. You could end up under investigation simply because your case was chosen for an administrative review or because there was some missing information in it that a caseworker overlooked when you first filed.
You could also end up under investigation because somebody made an allegation against you through an anonymous tip line. Because welfare fraud is a public concern, people are encouraged to report suspected welfare abuse -- unfortunately, that can put innocent people in the crosshairs of an investigation as well.
How does a fraud investigation proceed?
If you're suspected of fraud, you likely won't face immediate arrest. You'll probably find out that you are suspected of fraud when an investigator knocks on your door (or your neighbor's door) and begins asking questions. The investigator will be looking for information that contradicts what you put in your application for benefits. Investigators may ask your landlord and neighbors if they know who lives with you, if you are working, or if other people in your household are working.
Unfortunately, there's no guarantee that the investigator will come to the correct conclusion based on what he or she sees or hears. For example, imagine that you and your children live alone and receive welfare benefits. Your mother babysits during the day for you, while you are at school. However, the investigator may simply see your mother's car outside your home every day for a week and decide that your mother is also living there and you've purposefully hidden her presence (and income) in order to collect benefits.
Do you have any rights during an investigation?
Unless the investigator has a warrant, you don't have to let him or her into your home (and probably shouldn't). You also have a right to find out what the allegations are against you and to ask for a copy of your case file so that you can see what is in it. Keep in mind that it is always possible that you have actually made a mistake on your application for benefits. If so, you may be overpaid. That doesn't mean, however, that the mistake was intentional or fraudulent.
If an investigator comes to your home, tell him or her that you would like to meet with your attorney before you talk about your case. This will give you time to contact an attorney, request a copy of your public assistance records, and discuss any allegations against you.
What are the possible outcomes of an investigation?
Depending on your situation, your attorney may be able to quickly clear up any concerns by providing documentation that supports your position. For example, it could be as simple as providing proof that your mother has her own separate residence through rent receipts or tax records.
Alternatively, if there were mistakes in your records that have caused an overpayment, your attorney may be able to convince investigators that they weren't intentional. He or she may be able to arrange for you to repay the overpayment over time, rather than face prosecution.
Allegations of welfare fraud are serious. For more information, visit http://www.darksidelawyers.com or a similar website.