After long delays and sputtering investigations, Greek authorities said they have compiled a list of 45,997 people suspected of pension fraud, including continuing to collect benefits for undeclared dead family members, some of whom would have been as old as 120 if they were still alive.
The government said the fraudulent pensions and other social security benefits are costing 320 million euros ($424.6 million) annually at a time when legitimate pensioners have seen their benefits cut deeply because of the country’s crushing economic crisis.
Pension fraud has been rampant in Greece for generations without much attempt by the government to stop it. Last year, Reuters reported that claimants getting checks for people who were dead were raking in more than $20.9 million a year, and that more than 9,000 people who said they were more than 100 years old were being paid too, but the wider scale of outright fraud is much higher.
Labor Minister Yiannis Vroutsis is reportedly set to provide prosecutors with the details of the fraudulent claimants, ministry sources told the newspaper Kathimerini. The list was compiled after a series of censuses were carried out over the past few months which also found that thousands of pensions and benefits were being paid despite the legal claimants being dead, with their families failing to report they were deceased so the checks would keep coming.
Pension fraud is almost as common in Greece as tax evasion as neither crime has resulted in major prosecutions or penalties for those found guilty, with the government saying it would try to recover monies paid out fraudulently but not seek jail time. In 2011, there were reports as many as 120,000 so-called “Ghost Pensions” were being paid to the families of dead pensioners.
The government vowed to find out how many were still alive, but did not. Greek authorities keep poor records and citizens often fail to declare the deaths of relatives to continue cashing in their pensions.
The uncurtailed fraud has cut into the government’s ability to pay those who are legitimate pensioners and as the government has cut salaries, raised taxes and slashed pensions deeply, with another round coming, to combat the country’s economic crisis and meet the demands of international lenders putting up $325 billion in two bailouts.