Can Social Security Take Away My Benefits?

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Social Security benefits are a form of government benefits provided through the federal Social Security Administration to people who are elderly, low-income or disabled. These benefits are part of a government entitlement program, meaning that anyone who meets the minimum requirements to receive benefits is automatically entitled to receive them. However, a person can have his benefits confiscated under various circumstances, particularly if he is found to have been ineligible for the benefits when he received them.

Eligibility

A person can only receive Social Security benefits if the government believes him to be eligible to receive them. When a person applies for benefits, the government will make an initial determination of eligibility. Even if a person is found eligible, the determination may change as the person's situation changes, or as the government learns new information. A change in determination may allow the government to halt payments or even seize past payments.

Mistakes

A person may be deemed eligible for Social Security accidentally. If the government discovers the mistake, it will likely immediately halt payments to the person. If the person had no intention of misleading the government, he may be allowed to keep the money that was incorrectly provided to him. However, the person may also be required to pay back the money over time. This decision will be made based on the individual circumstances of the case.

Fraud

If a person receives benefits incorrectly through fraud — for example, if the person intentionally deceives the Social Security Administration about a disability as a means of collecting SSI — then the agency will likely require that he pay back all money that he received through this deception. In addition, the person may have to pay heavy penalties and, in some cases, face civil or even criminal charges for his crime.

Seizure

If a person received Social Security benefits rightfully, then these benefits will be protected from seizure by private creditors. These creditors can neither garnish the money from a debtor, nor extract it from the debtor's bank account. However, some government agencies are given access to this money if the recipient owes it to them. For example, if a person has a substantial tax bill, the Internal Revenue Service may attempt to seize her Social Security income.

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