WAFF Investigates: Social Security errors raising the dead

WAFF Investigates: Social Security errors raising the dead

(WAFF) - Tax fraud is raising the dead, literally, and it could be costing living taxpayers.

Errors found in social security record keeping is translating to 6.5 million people who should be dead still listed as alive and well.

Even worse, they're applying for credit cards, opening bank accounts, and drawing paychecks.

A man walked into a bank and opened accounts with Social Ssecurity numbers belonging to people who would have been born in 1886 and 1893 making him 122 and 129-years-old.

The bank caught it, but that only cracked opened the graves, so to speak, of a lot of living dead found in an audit on the Social Security Administration from the Office of Inspector General.

Apparently, 6.5 million people over the age of 112 are still alive, according to Social Security.

There's really less than 100 people in the entire world that old.

In a nutshell, the OIG found the Social Security Administration's records are flawed.

When you dig a little deeper, you find nearly 70,000 SSNs of dead people were used to collect $3.1 billion in wages from 2006 to 2011.

Just over 4,000 employers took in applications of people born before 1901, and 253 Social Security benefits were paid out to people who were supposed to be dead. That's just in the years audited.

When asked, the Social Security Administration couldn't say how much in fraudulent payments that amounted to or if any made it to the state of Alabama.

Either way, these are your tax dollars.

The audit just highlights errors at the Social Security Administration in keeping what's called their Death Master File up to date.

The same file used by financial institutions, government agencies and employers to prevent identity theft and fraud.

Without a date of death properly noted in the database, none of them would know an individual was deceased.

It's actually the states that collect the data and pass it along to the Social Security Administration.

"The gold standard for reporting deaths to Social Security is the state information, and the states are working to make our information more accurate," said Catherine Donald, State Registrar & Director of the Center for Health Statistics.

All state birth & death certificates, as well as marriage & divorce records, are held in the vital records vault in Montgomery.

It's information you need a key and fingerprint to access, and they've been going there since 1908, only from a few sources like funeral homes, a coroner or medical examiner, and physician and then on to the county health department to verify.

However, that doesn't mean people haven't tried to go around them.

"We have had people who have attempted to file records on themselves and we have caught those,” said Donald.

They're catching errors even better now by transitioning to an electronic filing system to avoid the possibility of fraud like, “insurance benefits I think, people that maybe the law is looking for. There are various instances but if they are successful, I think it's very difficult to resurrect yourself,” added Donald.

Tell that to Judy Rivers: “I had been dead for two-and-a-half years before I ever knew it."

The epiphany came when she tried to open a bank account and so started her downward spiral from a six-figure corporate job in advertising to living in her car.

She now calls a camper on a friend's property in Logan, Alabama home.

"You can't get a driver's license, you can't get a loan, open a bank account," said Rivers. "You can't do nothing, you can't get a job."

Even though the error has since been corrected, it was still too late.

“The Social Security Administration put the entire bloody list on the internet," added Rivers.

That's why Rivers took her fight to get her life back all the way to Congress, testifying for changes in how the Social Security administration doles out dead numbers.

The Social Security Administration Director over Alabama declined WAFF's request for an on-camera interview but did say the administration is reviewing cases and assessing the cost to establish an automated process to update their records.

"The Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General audit highlights yet another area of government that is plagued with waste, fraud, and abuse," said Senator Richard Shelby. "It is critical that we take common-sense steps to make government more efficient and effective."

Last year, President Obama mandated the names of the deceased not be made public for up to three years after their deaths.

However, Rivers argues it's not doing any good if the file is wrong in the first place and it continues to be circulated throughout government agencies and financial institutions.