Benefit Fraud With Post Office Boxes

Gao ID: HEHS-97-54R February 21, 1997

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on: (1) efforts to prevent and detect the fraudulent receipt of government benefits by noncitizen nonresidents in Mexican border towns; and (2) the extent to which government agencies have detected this type of fraud in the Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Food Stamp programs. GAO did not independently verify the information officials provided for this report.

GAO noted that: (1) federal, state, and local Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Social Security Administration (SSA) offices, responsible, respectively for administering the AFDC, Food Stamp, and SSI programs, all have a variety of procedures in place to prevent the inappropriate receipt of benefits by noncitizen nonresidents; (2) as even the best prevention procedures are not fail-safe, these agencies also undertake periodic investigations to detect ongoing fraud; (3) periodic investigations have detected some cases involving noncitizen nonresidents' inappropriate receipt of government benefits through post office boxes in Mexican border towns; (4) however, statistics on inappropriate benefits receipt do not identify cases involving the use of post office boxes; (5) these statistics only identify failure to meet eligibility criteria, such as income, age, and household composition, as well as residency; (6) to prevent fraud before it occurs, procedures require checks of immigration status and residence; (7) specifically, the SSI, AFDC, and Food Stamp programs are required to use the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) system, maintained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), to compare applicants' claimed immigration status with that recorded by INS; (8) furthermore, all applicants for and recipients of SSI, AFDC, and Food Stamp benefits are required to provide a residence address if they elect to receive benefits through a post office box; (9) physical verification of applicants' or recipients' residence, such as home visits or residence surveillance, is not routinely undertaken, unless there is reason to suspect fraud; (10) some investigations are done on a case-by-case basis, such as when a suspicious case is referred to fraud investigators by benefit eligibility workers; (11) periodic investigations are also done on groups of cases sharing certain characteristics, which may or may not raise suspicions of fraud, such as cases of benefit recipients in certain zip codes or multiple benefit recipients at the same address; (12) investigations of groups of cases are usually conducted jointly by several program and law enforcement agencies, such as the SSA, INS, USDA, local program offices, and state fraud units; (13) each agency usually contributes some investigative or data base resources; and (14) further investigative work, usually by an interagency team of investigators, typically involves home visits, interviews, and, sometimes, residence surveillance.

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