ATLANTA - A little known special unit of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is helping federal authorities track down hundreds of Georgians who lie about their health to get disability payments.
Carolann Johnson, the special agent in charge of the group, says some of the suspects are shrewd and others are not.
A witness who worked at the Social Security office called the GBI when she saw someone drive up in a brand new Cadillac Escalade, Johnson said.
"He exited the Escalade, popped the trunk and got his wheelchair out along with his sunglasses and rolled into the office," Johnson said.
One man claimed he had a bad back until someone reported he'd built an addition on his house, Johnson said.
Johnson told Belcher she has covered all corners of Georgia. She believes the fraud is driven partly by the economy and partly by inmates who learn various schemes while they're in prison.
The GBI was the first state to partner with the federal government to go after disability fraud and Georgia's record is one of the best in the country.
Officials told Belcher they’ve identified 783 cases in the past three fiscal years at a savings in Georgia of an estimated $90 million.
Tips often come from relatives or friends angered by the cheating, Johnson said.
"They report people that are bragging that they're receiving a disability check for whatever reason, and they know and believe that that person does not actually need to be receiving disability benefits," she said.
The GBI is about to add a second agent to work with Johnson and the federal agents assigned to the anti-fraud unit.
They welcome tips about Social Security disability fraud. You can help by contacting the Social Security fraud hotline at 1-800-269-0271 or the GBI tip line at 1-800-597-8477.