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More than 300 Social Security checks stolen throughout Tampa Bay

When the first few days of the month passed and his Social Security check hadn't come, Joseph Servedio called the U.S. Postal Service.

Wait one more day, they told him. It would arrive sometime soon.

He didn't like that answer. Servedio is 85 and lives alone in Seminole. He has a mortgage, car payment and medical costs. His bills, he said, add up to more than $1,500 a month. Servedio lives on a monthly pension of about $700 and that Social Security check of a little more than $1,000.

As of Thursday, Servedio's check — and more than 300 others around Tampa Bay — still hadn't come.

The checks were stolen, said U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, whose office had been inundated with calls from distraught residents. He was told by investigators that the theft appeared to be an inside job carried out by one or two people, though he declined to divulge for which agencies the suspects work.

"Apparently, this is fairly widespread," Young said. "It's hundreds and mainly in Pinellas County."

Investigators have already identified the culprits, Young said. A spokesman for the Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General, which is handling the investigation, didn't return messages seeking comment.

Meanwhile, people like Servedio have been left to beg their creditors for patience.

"I've been sweating it out for 10 days," he said. "This is so ridiculous. So crazy."

Robert Jones, who is 80 and also from Seminole, hasn't received his check, either. A few days ago, he tried to get answers at the Social Security Administration building on 49th Street N in Clearwater. He said about 200 others in the same situation were waiting outside.

Jones later requested an appointment, he said, but was told none were available for a month.

"I just can't fathom that this sort of thing would happen," he said. "It's a disaster is what it is."

His 68-year-old wife, Barbara, at last got her check on Thursday. It's only for about $420, though. His is three times that.

Her check will cover the mortgage and the cost of their medications. After that, they'll have about $40 left for groceries.

The couple, he said, lives entirely off the Social Security payments.

"That's all we got," he said. "At the end of the month, we're lucky to have five bucks left."

So, how have they lived for the last two weeks?

"I like peanut butter and jelly," he said. "You know, we manage."

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at jcox@tampabay.com.

Help for victims

Those who have not received Social Security checks should do the following:

• First, call the special contact number toll-free at 1-855-722-3506, then dial 0. Representatives will offer assistance.

• Those in dire need may be able to receive a same-day payment of up to $999. In nonemergency situations, the replacement checks should arrive within three to five days.

• People who are instructed to visit a local office to arrange for their payments must bring proof of their identity. Identification should include name, a photograph and age or date of birth. Examples include: driver's license, state-issued nondriver identification card, a U.S. passport or Department of Homeland Security immigration documents. If none of those are possible, victims will need: an employee ID card, a school ID card, a health-insurance card or a U.S. military ID card.

More than 300 Social Security checks stolen throughout Tampa Bay 10/11/12 [Last modified: Thursday, October 11, 2012 10:47pm]
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