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Blind man's BLUFF: cheating the government PDF Print E-mail
Aug 07, 2011 at 02:59 PM

Blind man shopping

There is an old saying in Italy which, roughly translated, says "Once a law has passed, find a way to get around it" and there is no doubt that many people in this country are experts in doing this.

Just recently, for example, the paper's carried reports that for 19 years a 62 year old resident of the Apulian city of Lecce had been receiving subsidies from the Italian welfare system because as a blind man he was entitled to both an invalid's pension as well as money for an "accompagnatore", someone to accompany him when he went outdoors.

We don't yet know the guy's name but we do know that now the jig is up. Italy's Financial Police, the Guardie di Finanza, also known as the Fiamme Gialle, somehow got wind of the fraud and got him on tape (see video) doing everyday things such as examining produce on grocery store shelves, repairing a bicycle, successfully tossing garbage into an open bin, and crossing - unaided - crowded, trafficky streets. The man may not have been getting rich - reportedly the total subsidies amounted to only 112,000 euros, that is around $160,000 but he was getting it illegally and is now going to have to pay it back.

Mr. X, however, is not alone. Forget about the blind guy who last April was arrested by the Fiamme Gialle in Santa Maria Capua Vetere near Caserta at the wheel of his car, after collecting disability for the previious eight years. Data developed by the Italian National Statistics Agency indicates that in general  residents of the Italian south either are very sickly or highly skilled in obtaining state money in some sort of fraudulent manner - which of course means finding complicit doctors to fill out the necessary forms. Thus, in Naples, one out of 40 people receive some kind of invalid's subsidy, compared to only one out of 122 inhabitants in the northern capital of Milan. In Olbia, one of Sardinia's larger cities, nine percent of the population appears to suffer from some kind of handicap while in Taranto, in Apulia, at least one component of 50% of the families in the area is an invalid of one sort or another. In contrast, in the entire Trentino province in the North, only one person is currently receiving this kind of subsidy.

Recently, INPS, the Italian social security agency, has begun a crackdown on the so-called falsi invalidi (false invalids), a move that gains even greater importance today when Italy must absolutely cut back on spending if it is going to get its financial accounts in order and not end up like Greece. Today, according to the Rome newspaper "Il Messaggero", about a sixth of social security pay-outs go to "civil invalids" and other forms of welfare assistance not linked to worker , employer or taxpayer pay-ins. And according to OECD in Paris, no other developed country is as generous as Italy when it comes to disability pensions.

Last year, INPS, cancelled 40,000 payments reputed to be fraudulent, compared to 23,000 the year before and of 100.000 recent audits, 23% have proved to be suspicious. Agency experts believe that in the South, some 50% of disability pensions may be fraudulent. Some 500,000 inspectionss have been scheduled for the next two years.


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