The Social Security Administration (SSA) Inspector General released an audit earlier this month concerning enrollment numbers in the Social Security system to get a handle on waste fraud and abuse that contained some shocking numbers.
The audit revealed that there are 6.5 million people with active Social Security Numbers (SSN’s) on the agency’s database of beneficiaries over the age of 112. If these numbers sound impossible, that’s because they are.
The SSA says the problem has to do with bookkeeping. It seems that the overwhelmingly high number of eligible beneficiaries are phantoms – electronic records called a “Numident” that have not been updated with a “death date”. The March audit concluded that the:
“SSA did not have controls in place to annotate death information on the Numident records of number holders who exceeded maximum reasonable life expectancies and were likely deceased.”
This begs the question: How many of these phantoms are dead and of those who are, have third parties used their SSN’s to collect benefits fraudulently? The SSA has an answer – sort of.
According to the audit summary for tax years 2006 through 2011 the, 66,920 SSNs reported approximately $3.1 billion in wages, tips, and self-employment income but the names on income reporting documents did not match the names for the SSA’s on file. In addition, employers made 4,024 E-Verify inquiries (eligible to work in the U.S.) using 3,873 SSNs belonging to holders born before June 16, 1901 between 2008 through 2011.
It is widely believed that SSN belonging to dead people are used to fraudulently to open bank accounts, allow illegal immigrants to apply for work, file false tax returns for refunds and to file disability claims – with some individuals and even gangs using one or more SSN numbers at a time.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee said:
“It is incredible that the Social Security Administration in 2015 does not have the technical sophistication to ensure that people they know to be deceased are actually noted as dead”…
“Tens of thousands of these numbers are currently being used to report wages to the Social Security Administration and to the IRS. People are fraudulently, but successfully, applying for jobs and benefits with these numbers. Making sure Social Security cleans up its death master file to prevent future errors and fraud is a good government reform we can all agree on”.
The committee’s ranking member Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said the findings are “major problem” that wastes taxpayers’ money, exposes citizens to identity theft and undermines confidence in government. To quote Sen. Carper:
“It is simply unacceptable that our nation’s database of Social Security numbers of supposedly living people includes more than six and a half million people who are older than 112 years of age, with a few thousand having birth dates from before the Civil War. Preventing agency errors by keeping track of who has died is a relatively simple problem that the government should pursue as a high priority.”
The use of SSN’s belonging to those who have died and have not been added to the SSA’s “Death Master File” also represents a national security threat. A terrorist could use an SSN to get a driver’s license, secure a birth certificate and obtain other identifying documents that can then be used by a terrorist – particularly the homegrown kind – to blend into a community before striking.