Social Security Watchdog: I See Dead People
Policy + Politics

Social Security Watchdog: I See Dead People

Zombie Apocalypse Strikes the Social Security Administration 


The Social Security Administration is either under the impression that the zombie apocalypse is finally happening or it’s just totally oblivious to the fact that it has 112-year-olds living in its database. 

A new Inspector General report reveals that the SSA’s electronic file contains Social Security numbers for more than 6.5 million people born before June 1901 whose deaths were never documented. 

Related: Social Security Cheats Bilk Taxpayers in the Billions 

The agency is supposed to keep track of death records in its “Death Master File,” which is used by both the government and private sector to catch identity fraud. However, it apparently has no way to record death information for people “who exceed maximum reasonable life expectancies,” so it just keeps them immortal. 

The problem with not recording the deceased, other than just obvious incompetence, is that fraudsters can easily use the numbers with the very low risk of getting caught. 

Though it’s unclear how many Social Security benefits were cashed on behalf of the deceased, auditors estimate it could be in the hundreds of thousands. 

Separately, the auditors suggest that these numbers are being used by undocumented workers to apply for jobs. 

Related: $600 Million Paid to Dead Federal Workers 

According to the report, between 2008 and 2011, the SSA received more than 4,000 E-Verify inquiries using the Social Security numbers of people who were born before June 16, 1901. 

Lawmakers, unsurprisingly, had harsh words for the agency in the wake of the report’s findings. 

"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,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE). “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 IG recommended that the SSA update the old numbers to include the death dates. 

The agency responded to the report, saying that while it had concerns about the resource impact and error risk of correcting very old non-beneficiary records, it would explore the legal and technical feasibility, as well as the cost, “to establish an automated process to update these records.”  

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