Several years ago the Social Security Administration (SSA) created the Death Master File to help banks and businesses prevent identity theft, however it has led to some unintended consequences. As a result, lawmakers are calling on the SSA to place some restrictions on this database.
According to CNN Money, Sen. Bob Casey (D – Penn.) said the SSA is “inadvertently facilitating tax fraud” by keeping this file open to the general public through its distribution to the Department of Commerce’s National Technical Information Service (NTIS).
CNN had reported the “Treasury Inspector General said in May that the IRS could end up doling out $26 billion in fraudulent refunds over the next five years.”
That’s quite a hefty sum of fraud to absorb. IRS deputy commissioner Steven Miller recently said at a Congressional hearing the IRS had already flagged over 90,000 fraudulent tax returns that were filed under the names of recently deceased individuals.
Another concern is identity thieves can visit the NTIS website and legally access the full name, Social Security Number and other details about a person who has recently deceased, all for $10 per name, then turn around and use the legally obtained information for illicit purposes. Or, if the thief is willing to kick out several hundred dollars, he or she can have unlimited access to the file for $995.
Casey wrote a letter to the SSA’s Commissioner and the Office of Management and Budget late last week.
“Identity theft creates a significant hardship for many American families, and robs our Nation of taxpayer dollars at a time when we face serious fiscal challenges,” Casey wrote. “Preventing the widespread publication of deceased citizens’ vital records is an important first step.”
In recent months, the Death Master File has been making headlines for other reasons as well. In June 2010, Tampa Bay Online reported every month information for about 1,000 living individuals are accidentally added to the Death Master File records, primarily data-entry errors, and these mistakes go back several years.
“These errors can have serious consequences for the affected individuals,” Social Security inspector general General Patrick P. O’Carroll Jr. said during a recent congressional hearing, reported Tampa Bay Online. “That personal information can be used to obtain loans or credit, to apply for government benefits or to assume a new identity.”
Earlier this year, WCPO ABC News 9 had reported Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas had assembled an investigation into the inaccuracies in the SSA’s Death Master File. It was noted one of the largest issues is that victims are not necessarily notified of the errors and do not find out their identity has been compromised until they run into some sort of hurdle, such as the inability to get credit, or problems with opening bank accounts, or losing access to already opened accounts.
Johnson was pursuing elimination of the file as a solution, however he has been met with opposition. Decision-makers are hoping to find some sort of compromise, such as the restriction CNN noted.
Until a solution is reached, chances are many individuals will continue to lose their personal information to data thieves through the Death Master File.