In California, government institutions exist to aid residents through welfare programs, which are means-tested and provide benefits for different reasons. Some residents can intentionally defraud these programs in order to get more payments than they are entitled to receive. It is a criminal offence, under California Welfare & Institutions Code 10980, to either commit recipient or internal fraud. Generally, both deal with the misrepresentation of information and unlawful distribution of benefits.
Recipient fraud occurs when the recipient of welfare attempts to receive benefits that they would not lawfully receive because they would not qualify based on the eligibility requirements. There are many ways for an individual to falsify their need. For example, someone can lie about their income and claim that it is lower than it truly is. Furthermore, some attempt to receive more benefits by claiming to have more dependent children than they really do, with some never having had children in the first place. In these scenarios, if successful, the claimant will receive more financial benefits or access to services that may not have been eligible to them with truthful statements.
In comparison, internal fraud occurs when an individual employed by the government, to handle welfare support, intentionally submits false claims so to receive more benefits for an applicant. It is important to note that internal fraud carries more punishments given that there are other rules with regards to employee conduct that they have now breached.
If an individual is accused of having committed recipient welfare fraud, the first thing they should do is to consult with an experienced criminal attorney. Fraud cases are serious and have life-long ramifications. Possible defences that have been used previously against such charges include proving that it is a case of mistaken identity or that defendant lacked fraudulent intent (i.e. the defendant may have made an error, but they did not do it intentionally for the purpose of defrauding the system).
Punishments for committing welfare fraud can vary widely as each crime has its own specific context. In general, sentences can be classified under felonies or misdemeanors. For example, if the defendant files a fraudulent application for welfare benefits, they can face a felony conviction that carries a sentence of up to 3 years in a county jail, or a misdemeanor conviction with one year served in jail.