Yes, disability fraud is wrong

A former legal secretary in Massachusetts demonstrates for us what not to do: lie about being disabled. Teresa Brooks sued her employer, law firm Peabody & Arnold, saying they fired her because of her disability, a disabling spinal condition. The law firm said she wasn't disabled at all, and they fired her for lying about it.

The firm knew Brooks had back problems and had provided her with a special chair and with time off for physical therapy. But she claimed she was disabled and couldn't work at all. Brooks had received some disciplinary notes in her personnel file, and her disability claim came shortly after that. The firm became suspicious after hearing rumors of a trip to Disney World, in spite of her claimed total disability.

So they sent out a private detective, and guess what they found? Brooks was videotaped doing physical things that contradicted her disability claims. She was doing yard work, driving forty minutes, and sitting for hours in front of slot machines, when she had claimed that she couldn't work because she wasn't able to sit at her desk. The firm quickly fired Brooks.
A trial court judge dismissed the case Brooks brought against the firm and an appeals court agreed with the trial court. The law firm wins this one. Brooks wasn't disabled and was wrong for lying about it.

What's the moral of the story? Don't lie about being disabled. There are plenty of ways to find out if you're disabled or not. And if you know someone who is cheating their employer or insurance company about disability benefits, report them.

An insurance company is happy to send someone with a video camera to tape your neighbor raking his leaves, but they can't do that unless they know he's doing it. They've simply got too many people on claim to be able to follow each and every one of them. But if they get a reliable tip, they're likely to follow up on it. Make sure you provide enough details so that the insurance company knows your tip is legitimate and so that they have enough information to begin an investigation.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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