How Do People Land on the Social Security Death List?

How Do People Land on the Social Security Death List?

In some cases, people are added to a database called the Death Master File.

There are occasional news stories that someone is unable to get crucial government benefits because the government falsely believes that the person is dead. 

The latest such case is in South Carolina where a man named Charles Whiter received a letter falsely telling him that he is deceased. It was, in fact, his son Charles who recently passed away. While the two men had the same first and last name, the father does not have a middle name and they had different birthdays. 

According to Fox Carolina, this resulted in a hold on his family’s bank account and Medicare insurance, as well as a lack of Social Security checks. 

“We were just so stressed, we weren’t sleeping well the anxiety level was terrible,” Whiter’s wife Marie said. “Our patience had gotten short. It was just not a good experience and then to think back that we just lost our son and it was just, oh, it was a terrible experience.”

The mistake was quickly resolved for the Whiters, although that hasn’t always been the case. Earlier this year, per WMAR, a ninety-one-year-old Maryland woman was wrongly declared deceased by the Social Security Administration and was added to a government database listing people who are dead. In another case, an Indiana man was mistakenly declared dead by the Internal Revenue Service, and later received a letter of condolence for his passing. 

In some cases, people are added to a database called the Death Master File, which is not only shared among government agencies but sometimes also with the private sector. 

“The SSA Death Master File is used by leading financial and credit firms as well as government agencies to match records and prevent identity fraud. To assist in this effort, NTIS and SSA are working together to offer the SSA Death Master File more frequently and with fewer delays,” the file’s website says.

In 2019, the Social Security Advisory Board recommended that death data collection be shifted to the Treasury Department, in order to alleviate the problem of 8,000 people per year being incorrectly declared dead. 

“The consequences for affected individuals can be severe, including bank account closure, denial of credit or employment, and other actions causing significant economic hardships,” the Board said at the time

“The Board’s latest report, Social Security and the Death Master File, examines SSA’s process to collect and disseminate death data to learn why living people are recorded as dead by SSA. The report details why SSA’s death data collection and dissemination should be shifted to the Department of the Treasury (Treasury) Do Not Pay portal and conducted on behalf of the federal government.”

 Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Image: Reuters.