Many Massachusetts employees who claim workers’ compensation benefits claim that they feel somebody is watching them. This may sound paranoid, but it may actually be correct. Massachusetts, like many other states, is very vigilant about workers’ compensation fraud.
Recently, a fraud was uncovered that illustrates how easy it is for claimants to forget that they need to be honest when filing for or continuing to maintain workers’ compensation benefits. A former postal worker had filed a workers’ compensation claim in 2004. She claimed she had a shoulder injury from work that kept her from lifting mail trays into trucks. She claimed she was unable to “stand, sit, kneel, squat, climb, bend, reach or grasp”.
On that basis, she collected workers’ compensation benefits from 2005 onward. Then in 2009, she appeared on the game show The Price is Right where she clearly used her shoulder strength to spin the wheel on the show. She also posted a photo on her Facebook page that showed her using a zipline, another activity that clearly required shoulder strength.
Her appearance on The Price is Right triggered a workers’ compensation fraud investigation. She was indicted in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina last fall.
PBS found in 2000 that only 1-2 percent of workers’ compensation claims are actually fraudulent, but many of the cases in which the fraud is discovered are given considerable media attention. Nowadays it’s easy to get caught on a fraudulent claim. Surveillance was once cost prohibitive for employers and insurers. With the widespread usage of social media, it is much easier to monitor and investigate possible instances of fraud.
Authorities and employers are on the lookout for signs that a worker who is claiming sizeable workers’ compensation benefits is faking his or her injuries. This is why it’s more important than ever for workers to be cautious about what they post on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.
Most instances of fraud are not as obvious as the case of a woman spinning a wheel on The Price is Right with a supposedly hurt shoulder. However, it is increasingly common for employers and insurance investigators to “friend” their employees on social media networks in order to keep tabs on their off-work activity.
Fraud investigators now use social media to determine whether claimants’ lives are consistent with the claims they’ve filed. For example, a Los Angeles warehouse worker who claimed he had a back injury that prevented him from working later claimed he bowled a perfect game on his Facebook page. A judo instructor who filed for total and permanent injury later posted dates on which he was available to offer instruction.
Social media posts are now accompanied by geo-tagging that specifies the place, date and time a video was taken. Geo-tagging allows investigators to determine if a photograph or video was taken after the claimed injury date.
If you have suffered an injury and are claiming workers’ compensation benefits, be careful with how you use social media. Even if you aren’t actually committing fraud, you should be cautious not to post something that could be misinterpreted to suggest you are more physically active than you are or that could rouse suspicion.
Additionally, be cautious about who you “friend” on social media. Investigators may not friend you directly—they may have other people friend you to watch your activity. You should also use whatever privacy protections are available on the social network that you use.
If you have been injured in the workplace, be cautious about both the claims you file and how you conduct yourself. A workers’ compensation attorney can give you a better sense of what your claims are and the benefits for which you are eligible. Contact the experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorneys at Kantrovitz & Associates for a free consultation at 617-367-0880 or contact us via our online form.