Zombie Social Security numbers threaten agency

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WASHINGTON, DC — Six and a half million dead Americans could be, at this very moment, opening bank accounts, drawing paychecks and applying for credit cards from beyond the grave.

It’s not the premise of the latest horror movie. But a new report from the Social Security Administration’s inspector general outlining the millions of Social Security numbers affiliated with Americans past a reasonable life expectancy, that don’t have any death records attached, is certain to be a nightmare for the agency.

The report found 6.5 million Americans aged 112 or older still have open Social Security numbers. According to the Gerontology Research Group, as of 2013 there were only 35 known living people — worldwide — that had reached that age.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee is holding a hearing on the report Monday afternoon.

While the report says only 13 of those Americans are still getting Social Security benefits, it suggests the SSNs could’ve been used for a wide array of fraudulent activity.

From 2006 through 2011, the report notes, nearly 67,000 individuals filed tax records where the names on the earnings reports didn’t match the names associated with that SSN, totaling $3.1 billion in wages, tips and self-employment income.

And from 2008 through 2011, employers made more than four thousand E-Verify inquiries using nearly 3,900 SSNs belonging to people born before June 16, 1901.

It’s a difficult problem for the agency to solve, however — updating its “Death Master File,” which lists Americans’ names, Social Security information and birth and death dates, with those older records would be costly and difficult as it would require hard-copy evidence of a person’s death.
By Alexandra Jaffe

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