Can the Social Security Administration Investigate Claimant’s Online?

They aren’t supposed to.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) issued Policy Instruction AM-12053 in response to this question:

Should adjudicators and reviewers use Internet sites and social media networks to obtain information about claimants to adjudicate cases?

This Policy Instruction arises from an issue that we face more and more:  How can we be sure that the information we get from the Internet is reliable?  Of course we can check comments, reviews, photographs, and use reputable sites, but can we be certain that the information we get is correct?  Think about the last time you ordered clothes online.  There was no guarantee that the clothes would fit you.  You probably were a little concerned that the clothes wouldn’t look the same as they did in the picture.  Or what about that food recipe that got great feedback online; we can’t be sure that it will be good until we try it.  That is a gamble we all take when we use the internet.  Generally, the stakes are low and the gamble pays off.

But the stakes are high for SSA Claimants waiting on Social Security Benefits. The SSA cannot have their adjudicators searching the Internet for claimant information that cannot be verified.  In response to this issue, the Social Security Administration has determined that:

Adjudicators and reviewers must not use uncorroborated information from Internet and social networking sites when determining disability. . . . As it is impossible for adjudicators and reviewers to determine the accuracy of information found on Internet and social networking sites, they must not use material from such sites when making a disability determination.

(Policy Instruction AM-12053).  Even so, there are a few caveats.  If an adjudicator becomes aware of a potential fraud situation, a Cooperative Disability Investigation Unit (CDIU) may use Internet or social networking as part their investigation.  If this evidence from the Internet is corroborated by other sources, the evidence is admissible to determine disability.

Take away: Be honest throughout the entire social security disability process.  If you use Facebook, make sure you check your privacy settings.  Be mindful of everything you put on the internet.  Search for yourself occasionally to see what is out there.  Protect your online information!