Part 1: The Insider

by Bradley Bannon, NCAJ President

Like many of you, I watched in horror last summer as the convergence of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, culminated with the martyrdom of paralegal Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old counter-protester who was made to pay for her commitment to equality with her life.

In the aftermath, I also watched in horror as the President of the United States made equivocal remarks that put Heather and her anti-racist group on the same moral plane as the group of racists they showed up to counter-protest.

Earlier in the year, before those events became another example of a racial divide that has plagued our state and country since birth, I had decided to dig deeper into the modern perpetrators of that divide—the ones less obvious than a bunch of neo-Nazis having a tiki torch parade.

That’s when I started to understand what is meant by “white privilege.” I’d heard that term many times before and received it as an insult, loaded with the implication that, as a white man, I didn’t really deserve any of the fruits of my hard work—or, more to the point, that my work wasn’t really that hard to begin with.

I felt similarly about the term “implicit bias.” For as long as I could remember—from shutting down racist jokes on the playground as a kid, to fighting for the rights of the accused in a criminal justice system infected at every level with disparate treatment of people based on race and ethnicity—there was not an ounce of racial bias in my body, implicit or otherwise.

So when I started to look further into the divide, and what could be done to reduce it, I started in a defensive posture. Fortunately, my defensiveness soon yielded to something even more powerful: my appreciation for facts and intellectual honesty.

I took Harvard’s Implicit Association Test on Race and learned that, in the corners of my mind I can’t control, I have a strong preference for white people over black people. I attended the Racial Equity Institute’s two-day Phase I workshop, sponsored by Organizing Against Racism. I started doing some suggested reading: “The New Jim Crow,” by Michelle Alexander; “Slave by Another Name,” by Douglas Blackmon; “Blind Spot: The Hidden Biases of Good People,” by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald; and others.

I learned that it takes only a little bit of genuine curiosity to understand how racism in our country and its institutions is like any other virus: it has constantly changed forms to survive and thrive. And it has infected systems built up over hundreds of years in the United States. Banking systems. Employment systems. Housing systems. Retail systems. Voting systems.

Justice systems.

It’s not hard for an open mind to accept the fact that systems of gender and racial preference, invented and expanded by white men over centuries in which they were favored in law and fact, would continue in the present day to greatly benefit white men, in practice if not by actual design.

The preferences are so ingrained in our culture, I realized, that I could subconsciously perpetuate them even as I consciously abhorred them. And once I got past my initial defensiveness about that dichotomy, I chose to receive that knowledge as a gift and a call to action.

No single person created these preferential systems. No single generation did it. And no single person or generation will be able to undo it. But as a white man, I know I am valuably positioned to push back against them. I am, after all, an insider.

That does not make me the creator of the problem, but it makes me a perpetuator of it if I deny it, or ignore it, or allow my knee-jerk reaction to loaded terms like “white privilege” and “implicit bias” prevent me from recognizing the undeniable truths beneath them. And doing something about it.

Like many who have chosen to stand as guardian of the injured and the accused, I feel called to change myself, this country, and its systems for the better. In my day job, I have recently pivoted toward civil rights work, but I continue to represent people accused and convicted of crimes, in a system that was originally designed and has always been used to control, disenfranchise, and marginalize people of color. In my volunteer work, I have used my position and privilege as a leader in NCAJ to fight for greater equality and fairness in the criminal and civil justice systems.

This past year, with the honor of the NCAJ presidency, I have focused on diversity, inclusion, and equity within the organization, so that it may further serve and strengthen its mission of protecting people’s rights—regardless of race, ethnicity, gender (including gender identity), sexual orientation, disability, religion, nationality, socioeconomic status, or any other categorization.

I’m not doing these things because I overestimate my importance or influence. Or because I think the traditionally marginalized are incapable of successfully pushing back and gaining ground.

I’m doing it because I should. Because I want to be who I think I am. Because I want this country to be what I always hoped it would be. And because I want everyone to have the same shot—in this nation, state, profession, and organization—that I did by accident of gender and the color of my skin.

Since it began in the 1960s, NCAJ has moved the legal systems of North Carolina closer to that goal, but we have more work to do. And that work starts with any effort that hopes to succeed, and something that NCAJ has been quite good at over the last half-century:


Click here to read Part 2 of this series, ‘The Educators.


Understanding Traumatic Brain Injury After Injury

When a person is injured in a car wreck, motorcycle wreck, or other personal injury, sometimes the most harmful injuries are those that you cannot see with the naked eye:  a brain injury.  Sometimes brain injuries are obvious and an injured person’s functioning is so impaired that they are left unable to speak, walk, or feed themselves.  Other times, the brain injury is subtler.  Called a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) , these injuries can be as devastating as a spinal cord injury or any other serious injury.  However, because the injured person may “look” normal, it can be more difficult to recover compensation for these types of cases.

Brain Anatomy

The human brain is the most complex and sensitive organ in the body.  Weighing only about 3 lbs., the brain is the essence of what makes a person who they are.    There are several parts to the brain, and each part has its own function.  The three (3) main parts are the cerebrum, cerebellum and the brain stem.  The brain stem is located at the base of the brain and contains the midbrain, pons and medulla.  This section of the brain is responsible for automatic body functions such as breathing, heart rate, digestion, and regulating body temperature.  It also serves as a relay system between the rest of the brain and the central nervous system.  An injury to this area of the brain usually is catastrophic and results in death.

The cerebellum is above the brain stem and it coordinates muscle movements and balance.

The largest part of the brain is the cerebrum and is divided into right and left hemispheres.  This part of the brain is associated with higher brain function including thinking, memory, and emotion.  It is filled with approximately 100 billion neurons which are elongated nerve cells that transmit signals to each other through electrical and chemical signals.  The communication between these cells enable us to think, have emotion, react to stimuli, and remember.  These cells are very small, about 30,000 neurons can fit on the head of a pin, and can only be observed under strong microscopes.

The brain has the consistency of firm jelly.  It floats in fluid, called cerebra spinal fluid, which acts as a shock absorber.  It is also surrounded by protective tissue called meninges.  Outside of the meninges, the brain is surrounded by the skull.


Despite its protective coating, the brain can suffer injury when the head suffers a blow or the head is thrown forward and backward quickly, as can happen in a car wreck.  The brain is subject to the same laws of physics as everything else, and when a person is in a car wreck at 45 mph and comes to a sudden and violent stop, the brain continues its motion until it, too stops, by striking the inside of the skull.

When the brain impacts the skull, a mild traumatic brain injury can occur.  Some of those billions of neurons can be damaged, the axons of the nerve cell can be bent or broken, and the ability of the brain cells to “talk to” each other can become impaired.  When this type of injury happens, the person may have difficulty talking, remembering information, or controlling emotions.


Each brain injury is unique.  Like a fingerprint, as each person has a unique brain, each person’s symptoms of and reaction to a mTBI is different.  However, some common symptoms include:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seeing stars
  • Confusion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Sensitivity to Light/ Noise
  • Blurred vision
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of sense of smell

Symptoms that might manifest themselves at a later date include:

  • Difficulty following conversations
  • Struggling to find the right word
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty with short term memory
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Lashing out and yelling at family members
  • Withdrawal and disengaging from social situations and friends and family

Why can’t we see a mTBI on an x-ray, CT scan or MRI?

X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs are very good tools at getting a picture of the human body.  Think of these tools as good digital cameras taking pictures of inside of the body.  They can spot diseases, broken bones, and internal organ damage.  They help doctors see inside a patient’s body without having to cut open the body and look for themselves.

What these tools cannot do, however, is see the body’s cells up close.  Instead of the digital camera, due to the very small size of neurons, a doctor needs a microscope, and a very powerful microscope at that.  Because we cannot take brain cells out of the brain and look at them under a microscope, mTBI cannot currently be diagnosed with scans or blood testing on a living patient.     Researchers are working on ways to find mTBI by blood testing, by tracing protein levels (Tau proteins), but this research is still in development and not available to the public.


The outcome of a person who suffers a mild traumatic brain injury can be difficult to predict.  As each brain injury is different and unique, a person’s ability to recover is unique.  However, certain factors can make a good recovery more likely.  Younger individuals, for example, are more likely to recover from brain injury than older individuals.  Obtaining therapies from a qualified speech therapist can also help.  An injured patient is also more likely to recover if they obtain competent medical care following their accident.  Many people make a full recovery.  However, some injured people do not.  Doctors predict that most of an injured person’s recovery from a mild traumatic brain injury will occur within the first year after the accident.  After that point, recovery is not as certain.  Additionally, persons suffering from mTBI are at higher risk for developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later in life.


Many people who suffer from mild traumatic brain injury look normal at first glance.  However, although the injury may be invisible to the casual observer, it is very real.  Injured persons need our support and encouragement.  With time and luck, they may return to a functioning level.  For those that do not, the injured person needs the best care medicine can provide and our compassion.


Ruth Smith is a dedicated trial lawyer in Asheville, NC representing people since 1999.  She focuses her practice in Personal Injury, Car Accidents, Social Security Disability, Workers’ Compensation and Dog Bite Injuries. She is a member of the North Carolina Advocates for Justice’s Auto Torts and Workers’ Compensation Sections and is a certified North Carolina Court Mediator. For more information, visit

Vocational Rehabilitation in NC Workers’ Comp Claims

An important goal of the workers’ compensation system in North Carolina is to quickly return injured workers back to employment as close to their pre-injury wage as practical. Ideally, the worker can return to full-time, full-duty work in his or her prior occupation. But often permanent restrictions related to the workplace injury make this impossible. In these situations, vocational rehabilitation, or “voc rehab,” can play an important role in returning an injured worker to gainful employment.

Vocational rehabilitation in North Carolina workers’ compensation claims is regulated by North Carolina General Statute § 97-32.2, and Subchapter 10C of the Rules for Utilization of Rehabilitation Professionals. Together these provisions set the ground rules for voc rehab for NC workers’ compensation claimants. The North Carolina Industrial Commission decides any disputes that may arise between the injured worker and the employer that relate to vocational rehabilitation efforts.

What is Vocational Rehabilitation?

Vocational rehabilitation includes a broad range of services meant to help return the employee to work in “suitable employment.” Vocational rehabilitation efforts are directed by a certified vocational Rehabilitation professional and may include:

  • assessing an injured employee’s work qualifications, including skills, education and aptitude;
  • identifying factors that may impair a return to work, including physical and job skill imitations;
  • identifying skills, certifications or training that might improve the workers’ job prospects;
  • arranging for appropriate classes or training in the North Carolina community college or university systems;
  • providing job-search counseling and assistance with resume preparation;
  • identifying suitable job opportunities in the job market as well as specific job leads.

It is the job of the voc rehab professional to provide these services, within the framework provided by North Carolina General Statute § 97-32.2, and Subchapter 10C of the Rules for Utilization of Rehabilitation Professionals.

When is Vocational Rehabilitation allowed?

An employer can begin vocational rehabilitation services at any time during an accepted workers’ compensation claim. An employer cannot require vocational rehabilitation in a denied claim. Certain severely injured workers may not be required to participate in voc rehab if they are receiving disability benefits beyond 500 weeks under G.S. §97‑29(c), or have been determined to be permanently and totally disabled pursuant to or G.S. §97‑29(d).

An employee can request vocational rehabilitation services when he or she has not returned to work, or has returned to work making less than seventy-five percent (75%) of what he or she was making before the injury. An employee’s request can include training in the North Carolina community college or university system so long as the training is likely to improve the worker’s wage-earning ability.

Vocational rehabilitation services continue so long as they might be beneficial to the worker and the employer is willing to pay for it. The Industrial Commission has the authority to order vocational rehabilitation to continue or be terminated.

Who can provide Vocational Rehabilitation services?

Vocational Rehabilitation services in North Carolina can only be provided by a qualified vocational rehabilitation professional approved by the North Carolina Industrial Commission. There are strict rules governing who can qualify as a vocational rehabilitation professional in North Carolina workers’ compensation cases. The Industrial Commission keeps a list of qualified voc rehab professionals.

Generally, a vocational rehabilitation specialist must be hold on of several specific certifications, have at least two years of experience working with disabled workers, and complete a special course in North Carolina workers’ compensation case management. Vocational rehabilitation professionals must attend continuing education classes in to remain qualified, and must follow the ethics rules and laws of their own occupation.

What are the guidelines for a Vocational Rehabilitation Professional?

The employer or its workers’ compensation insurance company makes the initial selection of the vocational rehabilitation professional, and pays for vocational rehabilitation in the same way it pays for medical treatment. The insurance carrier should notify the Industrial Commission when a vocational rehabilitation professional is retained.

Although the employer selects the initial vocational rehabilitation professional, they are to use their own best independent judgment in their work. Voc Rehab professionals are not agents of the employer. Vocational rehabilitation professionals should not give legal advice to the injured worker about any aspect of their claim, engage in settlement discussions between the parties, or assist the employer in investigating the claim.

At their initial meeting the vocational vehabilitation professional should provide the worker a copy of the rules that govern vocational rehabilitation, and advise the worker that the VR professional will share relevant information from the rehabilitation process with the employer. If the injured worker has an workers’ compensation attorney the initial meeting must be at the attorney’s office if requested.

The vocational rehabilitation professional should prepare regular reports of vocational activities and share these reports with the employer and injured worker at the same time, or at least let the injured worker know the report is available for review. The reports should contain only information relevant to the rehabilitation process, and not information simply intended to embarrass the worker or make him or her look bad.

A vocational rehabilitation professional should refer an injured worker only to suitable work, and should end the rehabilitation process when it is not likely to be successful. Either the employer or employee may ask the Industrial Commission to replace the vocational rehabilitation professional for good cause.

What is an Individualized Vocational Plan?

The first step in vocational rehabilitation is developing a return-to-work plan that is tailored to the needs and circumstances of the injured worker. Developing the plan should be a cooperative effort among the voc rehab professional assigned to the case, the injured worker and the employer. This should include a face-to-face meeting between the vocational professional and the injured worker.

Vocational rehabilitation services cannot begin until the return-to work plan is complete, and all vocational activities must be consistent with the plan. According to the rules governing vocational rehabilitation, return to work options should be prioritized in this order:

  1. current job, current employer;
  2. new job, current employer;
  3. on-the-job training, current employer;
  4. new job, new employer;
  5. on-the-job training, new employer;
  6. formal education or vocational training to prepare the worker for a job with current or new employer; and
  7. self-employment, only when its feasibility is documented with reference to the employee’s aptitudes and training, adequate capitalization, and market conditions.

What happens if the employee refuses to cooperate with Vocational Rehabilitation?

An employee is required to participate in vocational rehabilitation when it is offered. If the employee refuses to cooperate with vocational rehabilitation the Industrial Commission can order the employee to comply. If the employee continues to refuse to cooperate, and the refusal is unjustified, then the Industrial Commission can suspend the employee’s wage replacemen benefits. The Industrial Commission must say in its order suspending benefits what action the employee should take to end the suspension of benefits. A vocational rehabilitation professional who believes that an injured worker is not cooperating with vocational efforts should document what the worker should do in order to return to compliance.

Few injured workers simply refuse to cooperate with vocational rehabilitation. More often, workers will object to what they see as unnecessary or even silly vocational activities. These may include the vocational counselor requiring too frequent meetings, application for jobs the employee is not physically or otherwise qualified for or that are not suitable, and even participation in volunteer activities. Many times, the vocational rehabilitation professional and the injured worker struggle to effectively communicate the date, time and place of meetings, leading to missed appointments and allegations that the employee is not cooperating.

What is the Role of a Lawyer in Vocational Rehabilitation?

Vocational rehabilitation can tricky for an injured worker. A North Carolina Workers’ Compensation lawyer can help keep things on track. While voc rehab should be a team effort with the goal of helping the injured worker return to a suitable job, it can turn into a game of “gotcha” with the goal being to terminate the employee’s wage replacement benefits. Sometimes vocational rehabilitation is used to prod an injured worker to settle their NC workers’ compensation claim.

The role of a lawyer in vocational rehabilitation is to be sure everyone follows the rules and to help ensure a smooth process. A workers’ compensation attorney should stay closely involved in the vocational rehabilitation process. This includes attending the initial meeting between the injured worker and the vocational professional, regular communication with the injured worker and the vocational professional, and review of the job leads being submitted to the employee to be sure they are suitable.

Kevin Bunn is a North Carolina workers’ compensation lawyer. He has practiced law in Cary, North Carolina, since 1993. Kevin is a Board Certified Expert in North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Law, a member of the North Carolina Industrial Commission’s Advisory Council, a past Chair of the NCAJ Workers’ Compensation Section, and serves on the NCAJ Board of Governors. For more information about Kevin and his law practice please visit

NCAJ Leaders’ Forum Firm HensonFuerst, P.A. Launches GoFundMe Page for Disabled Veteran Client Losing His Home

Willard Swinson, born and raised in Clinton, NC, a college graduate with a degree in history and political science, and an Air Force Veteran, suffered a devastating and life-altering fall in 2006, which left him a quadriplegic. After several years in rehabilitation hospitals, he returned to his Clinton, NC home, now wheelchair bound.

The roof of the home began to leak.  Willard had plumbing and roofing repairs done, but the roof still required additional repair, so it was partially covered with a tarp.   Willard survives on veterans’ benefits and social security disability benefits. While he was trying to figure out how he could pay for the roof repairs on his limited income, the City of Clinton instructed him to vacate his home for code violations.

Not knowing he could fight this, he moved out of his own home and moved into the first place he could find:  subsidized housing for the elderly for which he must pay rent, straining his very limited disability income.

Shortly thereafter, Hurricane Matthew struck, leaving Willard’s home beyond repair.

Willard has tried repeatedly to get his home repaired.  He attended all City Council meetings to defend his home. In 2017, the City sought to demolish the home, at Willard’s expense.

HensonFuerst, P.A. learned of Willard’s dilemma, wanted to help him save his home (the only asset he owns debt free), and began representing him on a pro-bono basis.

Unable to stop Willard’s home from being condemned, the firm is currently working with him, the City of Clinton, and the community around him to raise funds to build another home on the site — one that is wheelchair accessible.    Todd Belisle at The Centers, an NCAJ sponsor and financial supporter, has also joined the effort, providing work for him pro-bono.

The NC Advocates for Justice is proud of the work of HensonFuerst, P.A. and The Centers and their dedication to the mission to protect people’s rights.

Click below to learn more about Mr. Willard Swinson, who has inspired the folks at HensonFuerst, P.A.:

Please consider donating today to move a veteran back into a safe home, his own home, on his own land!

NC Expunction Laws Give New Hope to Countless Thousands of North Carolinians

Effective December 1, 2017, the North Carolina General Assembly has implemented the broadest and possibly most important changes to existing North Carolina expunction laws to date. Senate Bill 445 passed the North Carolina Senate by a 47-2 vote and the House by a 103-2 vote. This bill contains numerous changes, but there are two MASSIVE changes in particular that this post is meant to highlight. If you are interested in an expunction and believe you meet these criteria or are close, you should contact us immediately at 336-574-2788!

NCGS 15A-146

Perhaps the most important change made by the legislature is under the expunction statute for dismissed charges or findings of not guilty. For years petitioners were limited to a single expunction under this statute, meaning you could only expunge one charge or one group of charges; however, under the new law petitioners can now receive unlimited expunctions of dismissed charges or not guilty charges, SO LONG AS THEY HAD NOT PREVIOUSLY BEEN CONVICTED OF A FELONY. The implications of this change are MASSIVE. If you have dismissed charges on your record you would like expunged, even if you have already previously had other dismissed charges expunged, you will now be eligible for further expunctions as of December 1, 2017!

NCGS 15A-145.5

The second most important change made by the legislature is under the expunction statute for convictions. While the legislature did not change the criteria as to what convictions may be expunged (limited to “non-violent” felonies and misdemeanors as defined by the statute) and the requirement that the individual not have any other misdemeanor or felony convictions other than those sought to be expunged, the legislature has reduced the waiting period from 15 years to only 10 years for eligible felony convictions and only 5 years for eligible misdemeanors.

As always, we will keep you updated of changes in North Carolina expunction laws. We have handled hundreds if not thousands of expunctions and are widely recognized for our abilities in this area. We would be happy to help you determine if you are eligible for an expunction and if so, to assist you in cleaning up your past records. If you think you are potentially eligible for an expunction, give us a call at 336-574-2788.

The Clifford Division of Clifford Clendenin & O’Hale, LLP (Clifford & Harris, PLLC as of January 1, 2018) is located in Greensboro, North Carolina and practices almost exclusively in State and Federal Criminal Defense. The Firm consists of Attorneys Locke T. Clifford, Andrew C. Clifford and Daniel A. Harris. All three are regularly included in SuperLawyers and Business North Carolina’s Legal Elite and represent several generations of excellence and a legacy of success. The firm handles all levels Felonies and Misdemeanors, DWIs, Traffic tickets, Expungements, Juvenile charges, DMV hearings, and much more. To learn more, visit

Negligent Homeowners — Trick or Treat…

Negligent homeowners beware: it’s Halloween and you’re getting visitors. North Carolina premises liability law governs whether you will be held liability for injuries sustained on your property. With Halloween just around the corner, you’ll no doubt be getting lots of guests to your property, whether you like it or not. Most of these guests are small children who will be running through the dark of night toward your front door in hopes of scoring lots of candy. But what happens if they trip and fall along the way?

The Basics of Premises Liability Law in NC

Property owners have a duty to keep their property safe. Negligent homeowners will pay the price for failing to do so, as the rules of negligence in personal injury extend not only to retail property owners, but also to homeowners. In some instances there are conditions which are dangerous or potentially dangerous. If the property owner can not remedy those conditions, there is at the very least a duty to warn your visitors and guests of the dangerous conditions, especially if it’s reasonable to expect visitors.

In addition to the potential for a trick-or-treater falling on your property, you should also beware that Halloween is a time where the family dog may not be so fond of visitors dressed in strange costumes. It’s reasonable to expect dog bites and injuries related to dog attacks to increase during Halloween, and the property owner or dog owner can be held liable for the attack, especially if the dog has a documented history of such behavior.

Am I A Negligent Homeowner?

Each claim against a negligent homeowner in a personal injury matter essentially requires that the components of Negligence are satisfied in order for the plaintiff to successfully prove their case. Those elements are:

  • The homeowner owed a duty to the injured party
  • The duty was breached
  • The breach of that duty gave rise to the injury in question
  • There were damages resulting directly from the injury

There are numerous instances where a homeowner may in fact be negligent; however, if there are no damages resulting from that negligence, there is no claim to be pursued by the other party. For example, a homeowner who fails to maintain his walkway may have breached his duty to his guest. If that guest trips and falls because of this failure to maintain the walkway, the guest is well on their way to having a negligence claim against the property owner. However, consider that in some instances the trip and fall victim lands softly in the grass, gets up, wipes the grass stains off of their pants, and realizes they are not injured. In this case, there is no viable claim for recovery under the principle of Negligence, as the fourth prong of Negligence has not been met: there are no damages (other than a bruised ego from falling in front of friends).

How Long Do I Have To File A Lawsuit?

As with most negligence claims, you have three years from the date of the accident to settle the claim or file a lawsuit. This is known as the statute of limitations. This three-year time frame gives the injured party enough time to realize the full extent of their injuries. It also gives the injured party enough time to receive treatment for those injuries and obtain representation (i.e. get a personal injury lawyer) so that they may recover from the negligent homeowner.

Call A Charlotte Personal Injury Lawyer Today

If you or someone you know was injured at a private residence or in a retail location, call us today for a free case evaluation. You can reach us at 704.749.7747. Or, you can click HERE to request a phone call from an attorney. We hope you’ll choose to Recover With Us.

This post was authored by The Layton Law Firm, a Personal Injury and Consumer Bankruptcy firm in Charlotte, NC.  The Personal Injury work the firm handles ranges from minor traffic accidents and slip and fall cases, to wrongful death and medical malpractice cases. The Bankruptcy work the firm handles is all consumer-related and is a Federal law practice focused on Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 filings for individuals.  Chris Layton, J.D. is the founder of The Layton Law Firm. He holds a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Maryland at College Park and a J.D. from Wake Forest University. For more, visit

Avoiding Scams While Receiving SSD Benefits

Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits were created to help support those who suffer from physical or mental disabilities and are unable to work. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous scammers take advantage of those in need by stealing these benefits.

To avoid becoming the victim of a Social Security Disability scam, it is important to protect your personal information and remain wary of callers who claim to work for the Social Security Administration (SSA) and are asking for your Social Security number or account information. If you suspect that your payments have been stolen, it is important to contact an experienced Social Security Disability attorney who can advise you.

Obtaining Personal Information by Phone

There are, unfortunately, a variety of common scams that target those who receive disability benefits. In most cases, these scams involve someone impersonating a Social Security employee in order to obtain the recipient’s personal information.

For example, perpetrators often call recipients on the phone and pose as agents in order to “verify” the person’s personal information. This includes not only Social Security numbers, but also bank information and birth dates. Once the scammer has this information, he or she may contact the SSA posing as the victim and attempt to change the person’s direct deposit information. In this way, scammers are able to collect thousands of dollars in benefits that rightfully belong to others.

Victims may not even realize that they have been taken advantage of until they have missed numerous payments.

Another phone-based scam targets those who are applying to the Social Security Administration for benefits. In this scheme, according to the Federal Trade Commission, the scammer calls a person and offers to help them complete the disability benefits application process.

However, the victim is told that before the application can be submitted, he or she must provide identifying information, including a Social Security number or bank account number. Social Security Disability recipients are urged to be wary of those calling and purporting to be representatives of the SSA. You should not provide personal information or bank account information over the phone to anyone who you do not know. The Social Security Administration does not call and request sensitive account information over the phone.

Reimbursing the SSA

Sometimes, the SSA miscalculates an individual’s benefits and legitimately overpays those who are receiving disability compensation. Once the SSA realizes the mistake, the administration will send the benefits’ recipient a letter. The SSA often requires the recipients to return a portion of the funds. This is usually done by making deductions from future payments or by having the recipient send a check.

Unfortunately, many SSD recipients don’t know this and when they receive calls from someone purporting to be the SSA, they often send prepaid debit cards upon request to the scammer.

Recipients should be wary of any person who claims to be an employee of the SSA who requests repayment in this manner. Legitimate members of the agency will only require repayment through check or through deductions.

Online Account Scams

Recently, the SSA began using My Social Security Account, which is an online account system that was created to give recipients of disability benefits easy, online access to their Social Security information.

Users may check their earnings records, change their electronic payment methods, check benefit information, and receive an estimate of future benefits. Unfortunately, scammers have begun creating these online accounts for people who do not have one, after which they attempt to change the victim’s direct deposit information so that the disability payment is sent to their own account.

To help combat this type of Social Security disability scam, the SSA suggests that all disability payment recipients register for an account, even if they don’t plan to use it because if someone already has an account, a scammer’s attempt to create one would fail and the account holder’s personal information would remain protected.

Fraudulent emails, designed to look like they are from the SSA, are another common method of identity theft and Social Security disability fraud.

Many of these emails are written by scammers who ask the recipient to update his or her personal information in order to continue receiving benefits. These emails usually include a link to an official-looking website where victims are directed to provide their Social Security numbers and banking information.

This information is then used to collect the person’s benefits or to steal other assets.

Recipients should consider reviewing their online Social Security accounts to keep an eye on the status of their disability benefits and to review their statements. Those who find any discrepancies can contact the SSA before losing more benefits or assets to a scammer.

Text Messages

Scammers do not restrict their methods of contacting potential victims to computers and phone calls. In fact, the SSA has begun receiving a number of reports revealing that scammers have been sending text messages to disability recipients.

The texts direct the recipient to call a certain telephone number where they will receive information about their benefits, a pending claim, or a hearing. The victims are asked to provide personal information, which can be used to steal benefits.

To avoid becoming a victim of a disability benefit texting scam, remember to never provide personal information over the phone or by text message. The SSA never sends unsolicited text messages about disability applications or benefits. If you receive a call requesting information, it is almost definitely a scam.

Social Security representatives may contact you about an application for benefits or call to remind you about a hearing date. But they will never send text messages and won’t ask for personal identifiers.

Call Today to Talk with a Social Security Disability Attorney

If you have received a phone call, text message, or email from someone purporting to be from the SSA, do not hesitate to call your local Social Security office and report the communication to the authorities if the individuals requested personal information. Even people who use the utmost care to protect their information can fall prey to identity theft.

If you have questions about seeking Social Security Disability benefits, please contact us at Hardison & Cochran. Our legal team has the experience and resources to offer guidance about your SSD claim.

This post was authored by NCAJ Leaders Forum member Hardison & Cochran, Attorneys at Law.    The firm’s focus on making things happen and putting the client first has proved successful. From the original office located in Dunn, North Carolina the firm has grown to add offices in Raleigh, Greensboro, Fayetteville, Southern Pines, Durham and Wilmington.