What to Do If Accused of Welfare Fraud?

Many jurisdictions consider welfare fraud to be a serious crime, and those convicted of it face both civil and criminal penalties. If you are accused of welfare fraud, contact legal services and ask for advice on dealing with your case. By taking action, you may be able to avoid losing your benefits.

Welfare Fraud

If you deliberately give false or misleading information to a public welfare agency in order to receive benefits for you and your family, you have committed welfare fraud. You can also commit welfare fraud by not revealing information that affects your welfare benefits. For example, if you take on some part-time work, such as a babysitting job, and don't inform your welfare caseworker about your extra income, you may be charged with committing welfare fraud. If you are found guilty of welfare fraud, you face serious consequences, which depend on the law where you live as well as the nature of the fraud. You may temporarily or permanently lose your benefits, and the court may order you to repay the money you received as a result of committing fraud. In some cases, you may face criminal charges: If convicted, you will end up with a criminal record and may have to pay heavy fines, be placed on probation and even have to serve jail time.

Read All Correspondence

Always open any mail that you receive from your welfare office or public benefits program promptly. If you are suspected of welfare fraud, ignoring communications won't make the problem go away and you may miss important deadlines that could result in a loss of benefits. Review the welfare office's accusations carefully: You may be the victim of a paperwork error or a misunderstanding between you and your caseworker. If this is the case, you may be able to quickly address the situation, stop the investigation into your welfare claim and avoid suspension of your welfare funds.

If you receive welfare, there is a good chance that you can qualify for free or low-cost legal assistance through the legal aid society (sometimes known as "legal services") in your area. Many legal aid lawyers are very familiar with welfare fraud issues and can help you fight your case. Don't sign any papers, particularly those in which you waive your right to a hearing, without speaking to a lawyer first. Be cautious about talking to welfare fraud investigators without an attorney present or before you have the chance to consult with a lawyer about your case.

Prepare for an Interruption of Benefits

If you are found guilty of welfare fraud or decide not to fight your case, you may lose some or all of your benefits for a while. If you have a lawyer, ask about what sort of benefits cut you can expect, and begin to make plans for surviving during the time that you no longer receive benefits. You may be able to get help from friends and family or may be able to rely on assistance from private charities.