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Thousands Wrongly Declared Dead by SSA Every Year

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Sorry sir, you are legally dead. We don't much care you are still drawing breath.

Every year, more than 12,000 people are declared dead by the Social Security Administration, but they're still alive!

How is this possible?

Faulty Reporting

The Social Security Administration (SSA) maintains a list of people who died called a "Death Master File." However, the SSA doesn't get its information from a centralized database.

Deaths are reported to the SSA from thousands of difference sources such as funeral homes, banks, family members, Veterans Affairs offices, or creditors. A slip of the finger, a wrong number entered, and a person who isn't actually dead is listed as dead on the SSA's "Death Master File." While the SSA may make attempts to verify reported deaths from certain unreliable sources before listing them, the check misses a lot of faulty reports every year.

Alternatively, millions of people who actually have died are still listed as alive. A recent audit of Social Security numbers showed that 6.5 million "alive" Social Security number-holders are older than 112-years-old.

The Numbers By State

According to Priceonomics, a data mining company, residents in Louisiana and Illinois are most susceptible to being erroneously declared dead, with 11-18 false deaths per 100,000 people. In most other states, such as California, New York, and Alabama, about six to 10 false deaths per 100,000 people are reported each year.

When people are erroneously declared dead,  the error disrupts their whole life.

Mistakenly dead people are especially vulnerable to identity theft because the Death Master File, which is available to the public since 1980 after a Freedom of Information Act Lawsuit, discloses the victim's name, birth date, address, and Social Security number.

For one man accidentally declared dead, his Medicaid benefits were cut off and credit cards and bank accounts were closed. He had to sue three times to get his identity and living status reinstated.

As for other alive people declared dead, the Social Security Administration claims that it tries to fix errors quickly, but some victims claim that it can take up to weeks or months to resolve the problem.

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