Nothing is certain but death and taxes—and maybe not even death, as far as the Social Security Administration is concerned.
During tax years 2006 to 2011, 66,920 people filed using a Social Security number for someone born before June 16, 1901—that is, people who would now be age 113 and older, according to a recently released audit from Social Security's inspector general. Those "centenarians" collectively reported $3.1 billion in wages, tips and self-employment income.
Pretty eye-popping considering that only 39 known living individuals worldwide are age 112 or older as of earlier this month, according to the Gerontology Research Group.
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Is it still identity theft if you're dead? "It's obviously fraudulent activity," said Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. "There's no individual victim, but the fraud is being perpetrated against a government agency, or for employment purposes." Taxpayers are being harmed as a group, he said, if benefits or a tax refund are paid out to a "deceased" individual.
The issue traces back to a larger discrepancy the audit found, that 6.5 million Social Security numbers for people born before June 16, 1901 do not have a date of death on record in the administration's "Numident" system. Without a date of death properly noted in the database, government agencies and other entities inquiring wouldn't necessarily know an individual was deceased.
"This missing death information could result in erroneous payments made by federal benefit-paying agencies that rely on the DMF [Death Master File] to detect inaccurate or unreported deaths," the audit noted. "The missing death information will also hinder private industry as well as State and local governments' ability to identify and prevent identity fraud."