Washington, DC – Last night, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation which included a commonsense, anti-fraud provision to prevent the disclosure of recent death information and reduce incidents of identity theft and fraud. Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Ranking Member Xavier Becerra (D-CA) have led the effort to protect families and the American taxpayer from identity thieves by restricting access to Social Security’s Death Master File (DMF).
“For far too long, identity thieves have been exploiting the Death Master File to steal Americans’ identities to obtain fraudulent tax refunds. Taxpayers who are victims of such fraud endure the terrible ordeal of proving their real identities. That’s just plain wrong! Thanks to the budget deal, which includes a provision to restrict access to the Death Master File, American families will be more protected. Worrying about the stolen identity of a loved one is the last thing a grieving family should do,” said Johnson.
“This commonsense policy moves us one step closer to protecting Americans from identity theft. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleague Sam Johnson to get the job done for Jonathan Agin, whose tragic story of first losing his daughter, Alexis and then discovering her identity had been used to commit tax fraud, and for all Americans. We must prevent fraudsters from accessing and taking advantage of Social Security, while preserving needed access for those who use the information for legitimate purposes,” said Becerra.
The provision, included in the House-passed budget agreement, would require that only death information older than three years be publicly available through the DMF, except for certified entities with a legitimate need for the information. The provision is estimated to save taxpayers nearly $800 million over the next decade.
In July 2013, Johnson and Becerra introduced the Alexis Agin Identity Theft Protection Act (H.R. 2720), named after the four year old child who had her identity stolen after she died of a brain tumor. In 2011, the Internal Revenue Service rejected the Agin’s tax return, advising the family that an identity thief had already filed a tax return for 2010 claiming their child as a dependent.
The Treasury Inspector General’s 2013 review of Tax Year 2011 identified millions of tax returns using SSNs linked to identity theft. The Federal Trade Commission reports that tax related identity fraud is the number one consumer complaint to the agency.
Background on the Death Master File
The Social Security Administration collects death information so it can stop benefits to those who have died and start benefits for their survivors. As a result of a 1978 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) court-mandated settlement, Social Security has been required to make public the Social Security numbers and other personal information of those who have died. Unfortunately, this file has turned into a resource for criminals who file fraudulent tax returns based on identities of the deceased.