Battling ID theft of the dead

The government wants to slow down the problem of identity theft by limiting access to the now-public Social Security Death Master File.

By Mitch Lipka Apr 23, 2013 3:26PM
Image: Cemetery (© Perry Mastrovito/Corbis)Using an official government list of the dead has become a favorite among identity thieves -- particularly those trying to defraud the government out of tax refunds.

To try to combat that, access to the Social Security Death Master File, which has been available to the public for decades, could be limited under a new plan to help fight fraud, according to the firm IDentity Theft 911.

Currently, the government sells the database and updates. However, various versions of it are widely available for free from numerous websites. One of the purposes of the data, ironically, is to allow those fighting fraud easy access to a list of those who have died -- preventing, for instance, someone from registering to vote in the name of a deceased person.

The data, which has basic information about anyone whose death was reported to the Social Security Administration since 1936, is widely used by those doing genealogical research. It doesn't seem as though that use would be affected by the proposed restrictions, which are largely aimed at halting access to the most recently documented deaths. Previously imposed limits, however, already have had an impact on medical researchers and others who benefit from analyzing the data.

Rather than just being available to anyone who purchases the data, the government is proposing limited access to recent deaths to only those "with legitimate fraud-prevention needs," IDT911 explained.

The IRS has stepped up its fraud prevention and has said that in 2012 the agency had 3,000 people working to deal with identity theft -- blocking an estimated $20 billion in fraudulent returns along with another 5 million returns deemed suspicious.

The reason for all the actions and activity is a huge increase in the number of cases involved fraudulent tax returns. And the use of Social Security numbers of the dead keeps coming up. In 2011, the government removed the state and zip code from database.

What is currently included in the records now is: Social Security number, full name, date of birth, and date of death.

Among the living, here are a list of signs put together by the Federal Trade Commission that could mean someone has stolen your identity:
  • You see withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t explain.
  • You don’t get your bills or other mail.
  • Merchants refuse your checks.
  • Debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours.
  • You find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report.
  • Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.
  • Your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you’ve reached your benefits limit.
  • A health plan won’t cover you because your medical records show a condition you don’t have.
  • The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for.
  • You get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.

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3Comments
Apr 23, 2013 4:19PM
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I spent some time living in Salt Lake City, and it is common practice there, for the Mormons, after Sunday service to load up all of their kids and hit Costco for their free lunch...
Apr 23, 2013 6:22PM
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Let's start with Obama. Let's continue with his family (Kenyan) here illegally. I say deport all of them.

 

re: nodemorats      Spot on!!!!!!

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