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Social Security Fraud: Easier Than You Might Think?

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Anna Rotondo has never met Linda Ann Weston. She's never been in the basement of horrors, where police allege Weston was keeping four mentally-challenged adults as she stole their Social Security disability checks.

But judging by the mail Rotondo was receiving at her Rhawnhurst home, even she knew something was fishy. (see related story)

For as long as five years, Rotondo says she received Social Security statements and Medicare bills for people with "at least four to six different names."

"There had to be something going on – had to be something."

Rotondo says she tried alerting the Postal Service and the Social Security Administration, whose Mid-Atlantic office is on Spring Garden Street in Philadelphia.

"No one ever got back to me, from either of the places," she said.

So, how is it possible that Weston might be able to steal the Social Security checks from several people, as police allege, possibly for years, without the fraud ever being detected?

Well, some experts say because Social Security is an enormous system, doling out hundreds of billions of dollars a year, it has a critical weakness.

"The government relies on the honesty of the person seeking the benefits," said Richard Zack, a former assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted government fraud cases. Zack is now an attorney for Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia. Social Security is "vulnerable to fraud because they rely on the honesty of the person seeking the benefits," he said.

When someone applies to manage another person's benefits, they simply fill out a four-page form and take it to a benefits office.

"The problem is that benefits person does not have the authority or the time necessarily … to make sure those answers are truthful," Zack said. "The government is always dealing with many, many applicants."

One of the questions on that form requires applicants to report if they've ever been convicted of a felony. But a 2010 report from the Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General found hundreds of applicants lie about their background, and it is not always investigated.

Reported by Ben Simmoneau, CBS 3

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