Normally, people get authorities involved when they’ve got money missing.
In Janesville resident Jerry Addie’s case, it was money that mysteriously showed up in his bank account—a Social Security benefit of $2,340.60 to be exact—that prompted a deeper look.
Addie, a retired Janesville teacher, in late March received a mailed letter from the Social Security Administration Great Lakes Program Service Center. The letter told Addie that in the coming days he’d get a payment of $2,340.60 through Social Security’s Retirement, Survivors and Disability Insurance “because we owed money to JACK A. ARMSTRONG.”
“This payment is in addition to any monthly payments you may receive,” the letter states.
A few days later, a direct deposit of $2,340.60 showed up in Addie’s bank account.
The trouble: Addie says he doesn’t know any Jack A. Armstrong. He said his name is not, nor has it ever been, Jack A. Armstrong. For weeks, Addie said he tried to get Social Security Administration officers in Janesville or elsewhere to help him unravel the mystery payout, but he said the going was slow.
Addie said he initially went to the Social Security Administration’s branch office in Janesville to ask if the letter was some type of fraud or scam. Officials at the Janesville office told him the letter was legitimate, and, they said, Social Security records showed Addie already had been paid the benefit via direct deposit.
Addie said the Janesville officials at the time told him the letter and payout did not appear to be an error. One official told him it was possible the payment was a death benefit or that Addie might have been designated as “payee” for a Jack A. Armstrong who was unable to handle the payment himself.
Addie said he offered twice to cut the Social Security office a check to “send the money back” to the Social Security Administration.
He told officials in Janesville that when it came to the benefit payout, he didn’t know Jack.
“I told them I don’t know Jack. A. Armstrong, I’m not related to Jack A. Armstrong and I’ve never even met a Jack A. Armstrong. I told them I didn’t want the money, and I wanted to pay it back to them or contest or appeal this. Because I was sure that that payment wasn’t supposed to be sent to me,” Addie said.
Addie said the Janesville office told him in early April they would enter an appeal to the payout, and Addie would get a response from the Social Security Administration within “30 to 45 days.”
Addie researched online telephone and address records and found at least 78 people in the U.S. named Jack A. Armstrong. Some were dead. He didn’t know any of them.
Meanwhile, Addie moved the Social Security payout to a separate bank account.
“I figured if it collected interest, the government would probably want that back, too,” he said.
Addie said 45 days passed, and he hadn’t heard anything from the Social Security Administration. As of early this week, the mysterious payment remained in the bank, he said.
Addie went back to the Janesville branch earlier this week and again inquired about the payment. He said he was told the appeal he’d made in April hadn’t been processed.
“I told them, ‘If you want to give me $2,340, I want a letter from you saying I don’t have to pay it back.’ If I kept it, I’d probably donate at least half of it to the humane society or something or the other,” Addie said. “I’m smart enough to know that sometimes what the government giveth, later on the government taketh away.”
Addie reached out to The Gazette this week, wondering if an independent look into the baffling Social Security payout might yield some results.
On Tuesday, the Janesville Social Security office deferred comment and pointed a Gazette reporter toward a Social Security Administration public affairs official.
The Gazette in an email on Wednesday asked the Social Security public affairs official about Addie’s appeal. Among other questions, The Gazette asked whether Addie would be liable if the payment was later determined to have been sent to Addie by mistake.
The Social Security Administration did not respond to The Gazette’s inquiry, but on Friday, a few days after The Gazette’s inquiry, Addie told The Gazette that Social Security officials had contacted him.
The officials asked him to return to the Janesville office to make a “remittance” for the Jack A. Armstrong payment.
On Friday, Addie cut a check in the amount of the payment he had gotten earlier. Janesville Social Security office employee Phil Austin told him that would clear up the matter, at least for Addie.
Austin didn’t have a full explanation for the snafu, although a receipt from Addie’s repayment showed the Social Security office processed Addie’s check as a transaction “to repay an overpayment.”
“This isn’t a common occurrence at all. I’ve been here eight years, and I haven’t run into it where you get a notice that states this money for this name was made out to someone else. I’m not sure of the error—maybe some clerical error—allowing it,” Austin said.
It remains unclear who Jack A. Armstrong is or whether Armstrong would ever see a $2,340.60 payment.
Addie seemed satisfied with what he had learned—but mainly relieved to be rid of a couple thousand dollars he still believes were never his.
“I guess if anything, there’s going to be a lot of people who’ll say ‘He’s crazy! He’s got free money!’” Addie said. “But like anything else, what if it comes back to bite you?”