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Death — a Social Security typo

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Posted: 7 am ET

Social Security records more than 14,000 people a year as dead when they aren't -- or as Mark Twain said, "The report of my death has been greatly exaggerated."

CNNMoney reported on the phenomenon this week, pointing out that one in every 200 deaths -- are incorrectly entered into its Death Master File, which contains the Social Security numbers, names, birth dates, death dates, ZIP codes and last-known residences of more than 87 million deceased Americans. As CNN calculated, that averages out to 38 life-altering mistakes a day.

It's a huge retirement planning problem when Social Security declare you dead, CNN says. Because the agency's Master Death File is shared with other government agencies and the information is sold to practically anybody who wants to buy it, you can find yourself buried under cancellations and closures, and potentially identity theft. It can make your retirement a real bummer.

"Erroneous death entries can lead to benefit termination, cause severe financial hardship and distress to affected individuals, and result in the publication of living individuals' (personal identifying information) in the (Death Master File)," the Inspector General said in its most recent evaluation of the situation.

Getting the problem straightened out is like an Irish wake -- it goes on forever. Social Security told CNN that it does the best it can to revive you: "We correct it as soon as possible," said administration spokesman Mark Hinkle. "Usually the error was inadvertently caused because of a human typing error when death information was entered into a computer system."

But the Inspector General says incorrect information may still be posted in publicly available government records months after the error is brought to the administration's attention.

What should you do if you're inadvertently declared dead? The Identity Theft Resource Center says:

  • Figure out who reported you as dead, then get a copy of your death certificate from the county clerk's or recorder's office where the death was reported, and fill out a form to amend the certificate. The death certificate will include the name of whoever reported your death. This person is typically contacted to sign the amendment as well.
  • Make an appointment at your local Social Security office. Bring a photo identification and a certified copy of the amended death certificate.
  • Contact your bank, credit bureaus and any other entities to tell them that you've been born again.
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August 22, 2011 at 1:25 pm

An amended death certificate?? If there was a data-input error, by definition, there was no death certificate to begin with. Therefore, there is no death certificate at the county office. I'm missing something here.