Washington, D.C. – Today, Committee on Ways and Means Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Ranking Member Xavier Becerra (D-CA) introduced H.R. 2720, the Alexis Agin Identity Theft Protection Act of 2013. Named after a deceased child victim of identity fraud, the legislation would end the required publication of the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Death Master File (DMF). The DMF is a publicly-available extract of certain death information in the SSA’s records, including the deceased individual’s Social Security number, first name, last name, date of birth and date of death.
On the introduction of the legislation, Johnson stated, “For some time now, thieves have been exploiting the Death Master File in order to cash in on deceased Americans’ identities. That’s just wrong. Worse, these criminals are deliberately targeting deceased children, like Alexis Agin. I was heartbroken when I learned about this crime. Worrying about a deceased loved one’s identity is the very last thing a grieving family should have to do. Congressman Becerra and I have been working hard to ensure that vulnerable families get protection they want, need and deserve, and at the same time help safeguard taxpayer dollars.”
“I am pleased to join with my friend and colleague, Sam Johnson, to introduce this bipartisan legislation to protect Americans from identity theft. I have long been concerned about the problem of identity theft, where all too often the Social Security number (SSN), which is assigned to make sure Americans get their earned Social Security benefits, is the key to committing fraud. For a number of years, Chairman Johnson and I have worked together on a bipartisan basis with other members of our Social Security Subcommittee to find ways to better protect Americans from identity theft,” Becerra said. “I applaud the bipartisan approach we took to resolving this problem for the American people. I hope we can learn from the Agin family’s tragic experience and move swiftly to enact this bipartisan, common-sense measure to reduce the harm of identity theft.”
The legislation seeks to stop identity theft and tax fraud associated with the Death Master File (DMF) by better protecting the privacy of deceased individuals. The bill would mandate that, starting January 2014, only death information older than three years would be made publicly available by the Social Security Administration through the DMF, which will prevent criminals from filing fraudulent tax returns before the legitimate family files its return. The DMF would continue to be available to entities who need the information to administer benefits or prevent fraud, so long as they have safeguards in place to protect the data. The bill would end all public release of the DMF by the SSA on January 1, 2019.
As a result of a 1978 Freedom of Information Act court settlement, the SSA has been required to make the DMF publicly available. As of March 2013, the DMF contains the personal information of 87 million individuals who have died since 1936. Over time the DMF has become a go-to source for fraudsters who have used it to financially capitalize on the identities of the deceased, including children, by fraudulently obtaining tax refunds based on the deceased’s identity.
Additional information about the bill may be found here.