Killing the Social Security Death Index?

If enacted as proposed, a provision in the federal 2014 Budget would eliminate most public access to the Death Master File, also known as the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). The United States Department of the Treasury is recommending a significant change to the SSDI that would “restrict immediate access to the DMF to those users who legitimately need the information for fraud prevention purposes and to delay the release of the DMF for three years to all other users.”

The full but short Treasury proposal (page 203):

RESTRICT ACCESS TO THE DEATH MASTER FILE (DMF)

Current Law

The DMF is a list of deceased individuals maintained by the Social Security Administration (SSA) that is updated weekly. SSA created the DMF in response to a 1980 consent judgment that requires SSA to provide certain personally identifiable information about deceased individuals under the Freedom of Information Act. The DMF contains the full name, Social Security number (SSN), date of birth, date of death, and the county, state, and zip code of the last address on record for decedents. This information is publicly available and, pursuant to the consent judgment, released weekly by SSA, and many websites publish the information included on the DMF free or for a nominal fee.

Some DMF users need immediate access to the DMF for fraud prevention purposes, such as pension administrators who use DMF data to terminate payments. Others use the information for purposes that are not time -sensitive, such as genealogy research. A third group, however, uses the DMF for illegitimate purposes, including identity thieves who use the DMF to steal the names and SSNs of recent decedents, which information identity thieves then use to file fraudulent tax returns.

Reasons for Change

Refund-fraud related identity theft has grown exponentially in recent years. Fraudulent tax returns using a decedent’s identifying information are difficult to detect before improper refunds are paid, because the Internal Revenue Service may not discover that identity theft has occurred until a surviving family member files an income tax return claiming the decedent as a dependent or files the decedent’s final income tax return.

Restricting immediate access to those users with a legitimate fraud prevention purpose while delaying the release for other users protects the privacy interests of decedents, reduces opportunities for identity theft, and restricts information sources used to file fraudulent tax returns while still making the information on the DMF available to users who have a legitimate need for the information.

Proposal

The proposal would restrict immediate access to the DMF to those users who legitimately need the information for fraud prevention purposes and to delay the release of the DMF for three years to all other users.

The proposal would be effective upon enactment.

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