Marlene Dietrich enjoyed a career spanning from 1918 all the way to 1984. The famous actress and singer, known for re-inventing her persona, has a still-famous quote:
With respect, not always, Marlene. At least, not according to the United States Government.
Imagine trying to withdraw money from your bank account, and being denied—because bank records indicate you are deceased.
Or being accused of identity theft when you apply for a credit card. Or trying to convince your friendly credit bureau that you are actually still alive– when the government says– you aren’t.
All this has happened, and more.
That’s because the job of accounting for who is alive and who has passed away is undertaken by the Social Security Administration, and their database has mistakes. A lot of mistakes.
It’s called the Death Master File, or DMF, and banks, law enforcement, the Internal Revenue Service, Medicare, Medicaid, and more rely upon it to ascertain your actual existence—or lack thereof. 60 Minutes reported on the Death Master File, and the errors in it.
Why do the errors occur?
The truth is family members may not report a death in hopes of continuing to receive Social Security benefit payments. Notices from hospitals and funeral homes may get lost. And while it’s easy to point a finger at the federal government, it’s actually the responsibility of individual states to supply notices of death to the Social Security Administration. And some 2 million of them each year do come in. But, as 60 Minutes pointed out, many of the state records are in paper form; Alabama was specifically cited as a state with 17 million paper records still existing. And while most states are moving towards an electronic document management system, there are still about a dozen states in America that have absolutely no statewide electronic filing systems for records of death—and that causes problems.
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The poor ability to keep track has helped allow billions in earnings to be reported to the Social Security Administration, from thousands of Social Security numbers belonging to dead people. Who was using those numbers? Difficult to determine—remember, the real people represented by those numbers are deceased, many of them for decades.
These are only some of the big problems, largely held over from the era of relying on paper records. 60 Minutes reported on the efforts of Inspector General Patrick O’Carroll to correct inaccuracies in the Death Master File and identify persons using the errors to illegally profit.
Millions and millions have been recovered from people who stole Social Security benefits from deceased persons.
One particular case involved a woman who died in 1989 and whose son never reported her death. Instead, he cashed her checks for years, getting almost $300,000 in her Social Security benefits. The man was convicted, and ordered to pay back the money he’d illegally received.
O’Carroll talked about the need to improve electronic document management, saying that some states “are reporting electronically,” and have “very good” records. But others are at a “more haphazard level.”
O’Carroll uses electronic audit and cross-comparison of Medicare records and Social Security payments to help target uncover discrepancies that may lead to criminal prosecution. It’s a lot of data to sort through—and would have been impossible for all practical purposes without electronic software. His office found one man who’d opened bank accounts with social security numbers that belonged to people born over 112 years ago. The obvious problem is that worldwide, only 42 people had reached that lofty age. What the Inspector General uncovered from this investigation was that the Death Master File had about 6.5 million people on it whose deaths, for whatever reason, had not been recorded by the Social Security Administration.
O’Carroll addressed Congress the day after the 60 Minutes report, outlining his recommendations to address records flaws in the Social Security Administration. Those wishing to learn more about Inspector General O’Connell and his efforts to develop technological resources to combat fraud and mistakes can do so here.
5i Solutions, Inc. salutes Inspector General Patrick O’Connell and his efforts to make government more efficient. We’re glad to see his support for electronic records management.
At 5iSolutions, Inc. we know how important your data is5i Solutions can bring you a Document Management system customized to your needs— with every document, and every piece of every document—immediately searchable. All of it safe and available anytime, from anywhere, on our Cloud Vault server.
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