My daughter has been interested in Ancestry.com for a while, and so the other day, we took a look. That search was fine, but it led me to do some online searching of my own for just the fun of it. Imagine my surprise when I found my deceased father’s Social Security number (SSN) on a number of Web sites. At first, I was quite angry and sure that what these sites were doing was illegal.
I was wrong. Although there is plenty online about how to protect your SSN including from the Social Security Administration (SSA), there is nothing to protect one’s number once deceased. In fact, the Federal government provides these numbers for a fee through a site with the Department of Commerce’s National Technical Information Service (NTIS). In addition, the government automatically distributes those numbers to all kinds of entities including state and local governments, financial institutions, insurance companies, hospitals and genealogy services. In fairness to Ancestry.com, they do not provide numbers for those individuals who have been deceased less than 10 years.
There is little protection out there for the deceased. Why does that matter you ask? One, it is still fraud to use a deceased person’s SSN to obtain credit or file fraudulent tax returned, Two, the deceased often have family who may suffer as a result of the fraudulent use of a loved one’s SSN. Imagine you are a widow or widower, and you run into problems with the IRS because there is already a return filed under your loved one’s SSN.
Unfortunately, not much is being done about this issue. According to CNN Money article by Blake Ellis (“Buy a Dead Person’s Identity from Social Security for $10”), in a May 2012 congressional hearing, IRS Deputy Commissioner Steven Miller confirmed that as of mid-April, his “agency had already flagged 91,000 tax returns that were filed under the names of recently deceased individuals.” In addition, the article mentions that about 2.4 million deceased American’s identities are stolen each year – that’s more than 2,000 a day.
What is being done about it? Not much. The SSA provides this information because of the Freedom of Information Act. They did also propose to the Office of Management and Budget to limit access to the death information. But at this point, nothing has been done to protect the privacy of the dead.
Guess I have to accept that my father’s SSN is out there for everyone to see.