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Thieves use Social Security list to steal identities of dead people

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Betsi Fores The Daily Caller News Foundation
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If someone close to you recently died, you may want to look into their tax returns.

This year, the IRS will review “tax returns of 91,000 deceased Americans this year on suspicion of identity theft,” Bloomberg Businessweek reports.

A list, known as the Death Master File, is compiled by the U.S. Social Security Administration and contains birth dates and other personal information and is sold to local governments, hospitals, pension funds and private companies. The list contains the information of nearly 89 million deceased people, and once purchased, can be easily leaked to the Internet, where criminals can take the information.

When the family of five-year-old Benny Walters, who passed away from a brain tumor in 2010, went to claim him as a dependent, they were astonished to discover that someone else had already claimed him.

“It was almost like somebody had stolen him from us,” his mother told Businessweek.

Criminals use the information they find to file fraudulent tax returns, either as false income or a false dependent. They can have their returns put on a prepaid debit card, where their trail then becomes very difficult to trace.

Tax advocate Nina Olson calls this a “relatively new tactic” of identity theft. 490,000 have fallen victim to this type tax fraud since 2008.

Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue suggests that it will take an act of Congress to restrict accessibility and release the death files to organizations that meet the certain standards.

Credit reporting agencies, insurers and other industries however fear new legislation could slow down their ability to check their names against the file to protect against other types of identity fraud.

“The faster that we can get it and the more current that information is, the more likely we can prevent the fraud that occurs in that early window right after someone dies,”  CEO of the Consumer Data Industry Association, Stuart Pratt, told Businessweek.

Still, victims of fraud feel that sensitive information is being delivered too easily to thieves.

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Betsi Fores