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SSA death errors wreak financial, emotional havoc on living

A 52-year-old woman who received Social Security disability benefits for severe depression stopped receiving her checks because the agency declared that she was dead. Correcting the error cost her two months of benefits, closed her bank account and made her vulnerable to identity theft.

A recent review of the Social Security Administration's practices by the Social Security Office of the Inspector General revealed that the woman's case is, oddly enough, not extremely uncommon. SSA database errors "kill off" about 38 Americans every day.

Of the 2.8 million death notices reported each year, the Social Security Inspector General found that about one in 200 were registered incorrectly in the SSA Death Master File.

The woman receiving disability checks for depression found out her SSA death status after her checks stopped coming. Her bank had closed her account and wouldn't reopen it without proof that she was alive.

It took two months to resurrect her living status from the time the woman first reported the inaccuracy to Social Security. The mistake was traced to a funeral director who had inadvertently typed an incorrect Social Security number on a death record.

The woman's disability checks eventually resumed, but the agency refused to pay the $1,000 in missed benefits, did not offer to reimburse the inconvenienced woman for the bank charges and never apologized for the mix-up.

The Social Security Office of the Inspector General found that, between 2007 and 2010, more than 36,600 living people were listed in the Death Master File. Most of the mistakes were due to human typographical error.

To magnify the problem, names and personal Social Security information listed in the Death Master File become public information, making these people easy targets for identity theft.

Hopefully the SSA will determine an error-proof way to record deaths so others who depend on Social Security disability checks are not suddenly without income.

Source: CNN, "Social Security wrongly declares 14,000 people dead each year," Blake Ellis, Aug. 22, 2011

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