Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated" - attributed to Mark Twain
The Office of the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration (SSA) reported that the SSA published personally identifiable data for living persons erroneously in the Death Master file, which is sold to the public. The Death Master file contains information about recently deceased individuals, and is sold to data merchants, credit reporting agencies, banks and other lenders, who use the data for various purposes, including preventing identity theft and fraudulent account creation in the name of deceased persons to verify status of customers.
Over the timeframe of 2006 to 2010, the IG report noted 36,657 persons were erroneously added to the Death Master file. Personally identifiable data in the file includes:
- Social Security numbers
- first, middle and last names
- dates of birth
- state and ZIP codes of last known residences available
The impact to a living person, whose demise has been exaggerated by the SSA, can be significant, but not in an identity theft scenario. Since credit bureaus will have entered the data as a deceased person, applications for new accounts with the personal data will set off "red flags" as potential fraud. In terms of the Social Security Number use, these folks are Zombies, or the "Living Dead," which may create another problem with social security accounting for benefits. Persons being identified as recently deceased, but still clinging to fully breathing taxpayer status, have definitely had one of their fundamental rights removed (life, liberty, and the pursuit of property, happiness, and safety, per the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights), if only administratively. The SSA has much work ahead to ensure the data in the Master Death file is accurate.
Zombie Status should result in the opportunity for the ultimate credit freeze, preventing any malefactor from using the data to create fraudulent accounts with the published data. If Zombies continue paying taxes, it is likely the Infernal Revenue Service will not take note of the SSA's errors.