Saturday, February 4, 2012

Why we should be concerned about the SSDI

There is currently a bill pending before the U.S. Congress that will either terminate public use of the Social Security Death index or make access extremely difficult. The bill is presently before the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means. The crux of the matter is a claim that disclosure of the Social Security Number of a deceased individual invites tax fraud. This issue is raised in the context of the highly emotionally charged problems caused by dishonest people claiming a deceased unrelated child as a dependent. You can read statements made at the most recent hearing on this matter online.

In no way do I want to diminish the seriousness of the problem and the trouble caused to grieving families. The effect of the dishonest and fraudulent claim is that the real family of the deceased must file additional papers, including a full paper tax return with the IRS to "prove" that they are the legitimate parents of the deceased child. This impact on the deceased child is not caused by the disclosure of the information about the child, it is caused by the negligent procedures in place in the tax filing system of the Internal Revenue Service. It is exactly the same problem I have encountered previously when dishonest people continue to make claims for tax deductions and other benefits for taking care of their invalid parent, long after the parent has died.

The IRS has access to all of the Social Security Administration's records. Every tax return and claim for dependency is accompanied by a Social Security Number, both of the person filing the return and of the dependent. How difficult would it be for the IRS to match the numbers to the Social Security Death Index? Not difficult at all. Why is the burden placed on the deceased parents to prove their relationship to the deceased child when the IRS already has that information on file? Further, although there is an almost instantaneous assumption that the dishonest and fraudulent people obtained the information from the Death Index, there is nothing to show that this is a fact and not just an assumption. Identity theft is claimed to be a huge problem in the U.S. for living people whose Social Security Numbers were certainly not obtained from the Death Index. I have written several posts in the past about identity theft, where I show that the claimed incidence is tremendously higher than the real incidence.

The Social Security Administration's record for accuracy is also not perfect. It is not too uncommon for living people to be listed as deceased. You can imagine the problems caused by this type of reporting.

As a genealogist, the issue extends far beyond the apparent problem. The testimony before the House Committee on Ways and Means vilifies the genealogical community as if they were the cause of the problem. In fact, no one representing the genealogical community is being allowed to testify before the House Committee. The bad actors in this drama, according to the testimony before the committee, are not the dishonest and fraudulent people using the information improperly, or even the almost criminally negligent IRS, but the companies that legally supply genealogical information to the public.

Rather than address the real issues, the bill before the House Ways and Means Committee, proposed draconian measures that would impact one of very few ways that individuals have of finding their deceased ancestors. For example, one of my friends who has never met nor had contact with his father.

The Social Security Death Index, or SSDI, is the mainstay database for the initial identification of a recently deceased ancestor. Here is a description of the SSDI from the Social Security Administration website:
Q9:  What information is available from Social Security records to help in genealogical research?

A:  You might want to start by checking out the Social Security Death Index which is available online from a variety of commercial services (usually the search is free). The Death Index contains a listing of persons who had a Social Security number, who are deceased, and whose death was reported to the Social Security Administration. (The information in the Death Index for people who died prior to 1962 is sketchy since SSA's death information was not automated before that date. Death information for persons who died before 1962 is generally only in the Death Index if the death was actually reported to SSA after 1962, even though the death occurred prior to that year.)
If you find a person in the Death Index you will learn the date of birth and Social Security Number for that person. (The Social Security Death Index is not published by SSA for public use, but is made available by commercial entities using information from SSA records. We do not offer support of these commercial products nor can we answer questions about the material in the Death Index.)

Other records potentially available from SSA include the Application for a Social Security Number (form SS-5). To obtain any information from SSA you will need to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. (emphasis added).

 For many years, the information from the Death Records of the Social Security Administration has been made available free of charge from multiple sources and several additional copies are also available for a fee. Here are some of the sources with copies of the SSDI:

FamilySearch.org
Ancestry.com
GenealogyBank.com

The index includes the following information:
  • Name of the deceased (Married women are usually listed by their married name.)
  • Birth date
  • Death date
  • State or territory where the Social Security number was issued
  • Death residence zip code and corresponding locality
Here is a screen shot from FamilySearch.org of the information from the SSDI for a random deceased individual:


This is all for now. More later.

No comments:

Post a Comment