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SSDI still in the gunsights

While genealogists began to gather yesterday in Cincinnati for the 2012 National Genealogical Society Conference, foes of public access to the Social Security Death Master File — known to genealogists as the SSDI — gathered in Washington, D.C., calling once more for an end to public access to the SSDI.

Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee’s Subcommittee on Social Security, and Rep. Charles W. Boustany Jr. (R-La.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight, jointly chaired a hearing yesterday on identity theft and tax fraud. And despite overwhelming evidence that public access to the SSDI is barely a blip on the radar screen for this problem, the pressure continues for a legislative end to SSDI access.

The testimony by J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, couldn’t have been clearer: tax fraud stemming from identity theft involving the living is the big issue. In his prepared remarks, George said use of new filter systems had stopped the issuance of $1.3 billion in potentially fraudulent tax refunds — and that an entire new system to prevent fraudulent returns based on a deceased taxpayer’s information had prevented $1.8 million in refunds.

Now math is not a big thing in law school, and The Legal Genealogist would have been in remedial math if it’d been a required subject. But even my feeble math skills are good enough to tell me that the problem of false returns using the Social Security numbers of the deceased is barely one-tenth of one percent of the problem here.

As a matter of fact, George disclosed that 4,157 “potentially fraudulent tax refunds” totalling $6.7 million — roughly five times the total problem caused by returns where the SSNs might have come from the SSDI — were all being deposited into one of 10 bank accounts, and each of those 10 accounts had direct deposits of more than 300 tax refunds.

Uh… and closing the SSDI is going to be the fix here? Really?

You’d think that the facts might be enough to focus attention where it really belongs, but that, of course, seems to be too much to ask. Patrick P. O’Carroll, Jr., Inspector General, Social Security Administration, in his testimony continued to call for passage of legislation which would end public access to the SSDI.

He was echoed by Steven T. Miller, Deputy Commissioner for Services and Enforcement, Internal Revenue Service, who in his testimony said his agency was “working with SSA on a potential legislative change to the practice of routine release of the Death Master File.”

And David F. Black, General Counsel, Social Security Administration, in his testimony, said his agency wanted “congressional action to exempt this information from the FOIA to protect countless Americans from the threat of identity theft through abuse” of the SSDI.

Nina E. Olson, National Taxpayer Advocate, Internal Revenue Service, went so far in her prepared remarks as to say that if Congress didn’t act to end SSDI access, she hoped the Social Security Administration would do it on its own.

Nope, the threat to the SSDI isn’t over yet. Not by a long shot.

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