Some 6.5 million people in the United States have reached the incredible milestone of celebrating their 112th birthdays. Or at least that's what's suggested by the lack of death records for these people at the Social Security Administration, according to a new report by the aency's inspector general.
The numbers aren’t nearly accurate. Only 42 people in the entire world had ever reached the age of 112, as of last fall, the Associated Press reported. The inspector general’s report scanned Social Security records as of the year 2013 for birth dates before the year 1901, and though it did not verify the deaths of all 6.5 million, it assumed that the individuals had died, given their age.
Of the 6.5 million, 13 people still receive benefits, but some of the remaining Social Security numbers remain active, meaning that they are vulnerable to abuse. “When you have a fake Social Security number, that’s what allows you to fraudulently do all kinds [of] things, claim things like the earned income tax credit or other tax benefits,” Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, said.
The AP reported that for almost 67,000 of the Social Security numbers, a combined $3 billion or so in various types of earned income was reported from 2006 to 2011, with nearly 200 numbers each being used dozens of times and one even used in 613 separate instances.
Part of the reason for the administration’s incomplete records is that many were created so long ago that they're on paper -- the agency went electronic with its records in 1972, but updating them takes time and money. The administration does compile a list of deaths to help mark Social Security numbers as invalid and identify the deceased for companies, financial and security firms and other agencies. Still, the inspector general’s report showed 6.5 million were not on that list.
Fake tax returns can be filed using numbers of those who are deceased, the Internal Revenue Service has warned. The IRS estimates that in 2013 it returned $5.8 billion in fraudulent tax refunds, which can be facilitated by stolen Social Security numbers, such as those of the deceased. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs will hold a hearing Monday on the issue of death certificates in the Social Security Administration.