Social Security numbers and the dead

In the last 30 days, my Facebook account was hacked and a relative’s credit card number was stolen. Meanwhile Google has revamped its privacy policy in an attempt to learn where falls every toenail we clip.

So our fair government decides the privacy that’s important to protect is that of dead people’s Social Security numbers:

U.S. Congressman Sam Johnson (R-TX), Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security announced today that the Subcommittee will hold a hearing on the accuracy and uses of the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File.  The hearing will take place on Thursday, February 2, 2012 in B-318 Rayburn House Office Building, beginning at 9:00 a.m.

I heard about this issue from my geneaologist/blogger/wife at Ancestral Archaeologist. After you die, Social Security adds your SSN to a death index. The main use is to prevent fraud – one can quickly verify that a person is deceased. And one can check whether a person has stolen the identity of a dead person.

Geneaolgists like the index because it helps their research. There’s an insurance angle, too.

Life insurers use it to verify death claims and to cut off checks to deceased annuitants. In some states, insurers have gotten in trouble for not proactively using the index to deliver unclaimed life insurance benefits.

But some people have used the index to create false identities, often from the SSNs of deceased children, distressing the parents.

I imagine it’s difficult for parents, but I get a bit hardheaded on topics like this. As far as I can tell, the relatives of the stolen identity suffer no financial harm. Publication of the index benefits all other parties. End of story.


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