Death Master File and Make Identity Theft Easy

The Social Security Administration’s (“SSA”) Death Master File –their compilation of all Americans who pass away each year – exemplifies the sort of tug-and-pull that the SSA faces in trying to eliminate Social Security fraud that takes much-needed benefits from disabled Americans. On the one hand, the File enables employers and the SSA to easily verify whether a person should be receiving benefits. On the other hand, the list is enormous (it has nearly 100 million deaths); SSA workers sometimes enter data incorrectly, and anyone can use it to obtain important information like a person’s full name, date of birth, Social Security number and zip code for his or her last residence.

Some members of Congress are calling for an investigation into the publicly available information that the SSA provides in the Death Master File. These calls are coming in the wake of investigative journalism that revealed how thieves were stealing Social Security numbers and submitting false tax returns.

The schemes, it turns out, are not terribly complicated. Thieves use information from the Death Master File and from popular websites like and to file tax returns. The criminals are particularly egregious in that they often use the identities of deceased children, claiming them as dependents on their tax returns. Deceased children make ideal targets, according to one Congressman, because they have no debt history and their credit records would not turn up any red flags. According to the Internal Revenue Service, during this past tax season, people filed $1.25 billion in false claims for dead Americans.

With the ease of finding information electronically, it is becoming all the more important to safeguard private information like Social Security numbers. Have you had any experience with identity theft that affected your Social Security benefits?

Troutman & Troutman, P.C. – Tulsa Social Security disability lawyers


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