Thousands of identity thieves have made away with hundreds of millions of dollars in stolen earnings from the Social Security program, a new internal government investigation has revealed. And roughly $30 million of this fiat loot was obtained by criminals committing identity theft using the social security numbers (SSNs) of people who are already deceased.
According to the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) inspector general, more than $200 million in questionable earnings were identified as having been disbursed between the tax years of 2009 and 2014. Most of this money was obtained by SSN theft, primarily amongst folks 85 years of age and older.
An audit recently released by the agency shows that many of the thefts were committed by individuals looking to work in the United States legally — in other words, they appear to be criminal aliens. And perhaps not surprisingly, many of those whose identities were stolen rank among the wealthier upper echelons of society.
“Although SSA had controls in place to prevent and detect SSN misuse, we found individuals were using elderly individuals’ identities for work purposes,” the SSA’s audit explains. “Our review of a sample of 126 elderly individuals showed that 37 of their identities had been used to earn about $4.6 million during Tax Years (TY) 2009 to 2014.”
While the SSA says it is aware of only eight instances in which the SSNs of elderly folks were being directly used to earn wages, it was discovered that the SSNs of 817 deceased individuals had also been stolen by others looking to work legally in the U.S., the illegal earnings obtained from these dead people collectively totaling nearly $30 million.
“Overall, SSNs belonging to 1,074 persons over the age of 85 were used for $145 million in earnings between 2009 and 2014,” Free Beacon explains. “Roughly $57 million in earnings were recorded to 7,949 SSNs that belonged to dead individuals.”
Actors, producers top list of most stolen from in social security fraud schemes
Where a bulk of these thefts came from was the entertainment industry, experts say. Many of the ill-gotten gains obtained by identity thieves came from royalty payments that would have been made to dead actors or producers, had they still been alive. In 33 cases, the stolen identities were from deceased individuals that would have been over 100 years old, and whose collective wages would have topped $7.3 million.
“The elderly are among the most vulnerable in our society and prime targets for identity thieves,” the SSA inspector general said about the findings. “Therefore, it is important to ensure that precautions are taken to properly safeguard their personally identifiable information and protect them against potential Social Security number misuse.”
On the flip side, the SSA every year mistakenly lists 6,000 people who are still alive as deceased in its master death file. This routine error cause all sorts of problems for folks who are just trying to collect the money they need to live, but who instead have to wrangle with bureaucratic red tape, sometimes for many months, just to be properly reinstated on the SSA rolls.
“If I’m supposed to be dead, where is my death certificate?” asked Ashley Walker, a 28-year-old junior at Chicago State University who ran into problems recently when she tried to get a loan for a car, only to find out that she was “dead” in the eyes of the SSA.
“I’ve never been a big money or material person,” she added, noting that it took several months to get her credit score fixed and her living status properly reinstated. “I should have been checking my credit report regularly for errors.”