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Finally. Somebody gets it.

Let me repeat that.

Finally. Somebody gets it.

Somebody — a group of somebodies who ought to darned well know what they’re talking about — really gets it: public access to the Social Security Death Index — the Death Master File (DMF) as it’s formally called — isn’t the cause of identity theft, but rather — used properly — the solution.

On Monday of this week, an article ran on the MSNBC website, bannered on the home page, that caught my eye. Entitled “Study: ID thieves robbing the grave; 2.5 million dead hit annually” and written by Bob Sullivan, it focused on a study by a California fraud prevention company called ID Analytics. I read it, expecting the usual “it’s all the fault of those genealogists” blather.

But nothing in the article suggested that genealogists ought to be singled out as the bad guys. Intrigued, I took a closer look.

ID Analytics works, it says, in the broad field of “business challenges connected to consumer identity behavior.”1 And one of its components is called id:a labs, described as “a multidisciplinary group of mathematicians, computer scientists, economists, financial experts, cognitive scientists and advisors from ID Analytics and other respected institutions (that) conducts research and analysis in the areas of identity fraud.”2

They’re the ones who did this study and another in the fall of 2011 focusing on identity theft in the United States. Let me share with you some of the key findings of these two reports set out by id:a labs in its press releases.

From the most recent study, released Monday, we learn:

     • “The identities of nearly 2.5 million deceased Americans are used improperly to apply for credit products and services each year.”3

     • Of those, less than one third — fewer than 800,000 cases — involve “deceased Americans’ identities intentionally targeted for misuse on applications for credit products and cell phone services.”4

     • By far most of the fraud cases occur when “an identity manipulator inadvertently used the SSN of a deceased person.”5 (These manipulators are basically making up sets of numbers hoping some work.)

And, we learn from both the most recent study and a September 2011 study, the problem isn’t limited to misuse of information about people who have died — and so whose information could possibly be included in the Death Master File:

     • There are “(s)everal hundred thousand potential misuses of dying people’s identities each year.”6

     • “Nearly 500,000 children under the age of 18 have had their identities stolen by a parent.”7

     • “A growing number of adult children have used their parent’s identity information for fraudulent reasons, with more than two million elderly victims in the past few years.”8

With studies like these, it’s pretty clear that stealing the identities of people who might be on the SSDI — the Death Master File — is only one part of the identity theft problem. It’s not just the dead but the living whose identities are being stolen.

And what do folks like this think is the answer to that part of the problem that does involve the identities of the dead? They answered that question in the id:a labs blog:

We at ID Analytics don’t think that ceasing publication of the (Death Master File) is the best way to deal with this problem. …

We suggest that the best way to solve the improper use of deceased people’s SSNs is to keep this list public and increase its use as a validity check in the examination of SSNs. If the list is very public and widely used, no dead SSN could be successfully used.9

These folks get it, all right. Now if only Congress will listen…


  1. Home page, ID Analytics ( : accessed 24 Apr 2012).
  2. Home page, id:a labs, ( : accessed 24 Apr 2012).
  3. Identities of Nearly 2.5 Million Deceased Americans Misused Each Year,” press release, id:a labs, 23 Apr 2012 ( : accessed 24 Apr 2012).
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Study: ID Analytics Study Finds Six Million U.S. Parents And Children Inappropriately Sharing Identity Information,” press release, id:a labs, 20 Sep 2011 ( : accessed 24 Apr 2012).
  8. Ibid.
  9. Keep the Death Master File alive,” id:a labs, blog entry posted 21 Dec 2011 ( : accessed 24 Apr 2012).
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