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Death Master File: How Much is Too Much?
Written by Whitney Wetzel
Last updated on February 20, 2012 @ 3:17PM
Created on February 17, 2012 @ 6:46PM
Genealogy websites can often be helpful when you want to learn a little more about your past. But another way you can also search for family members who have passed away, is through something called the Death Master File. Many of you have probably never even heard of it, but plenty of crooks have.
 
The Death Master File is a "who's who" of about 87 million Americans who have died over the past 75 years. While this file can be useful, it can also be a little too helpful.

The Death Master File is maintained by the Social Security Administration, and it includes names, addresses, birth and death dates, and of course, social security numbers. But the problem with all of that personal information being made available, is that thieves have been filing fraudulent tax returns, by claiming deceased children as their dependents.

"They get their information, get their social security number, and claim them as a dependent. Get a fraudulent tax return because of it," said Rita McCrobie, Consumer Advocate, State Attorney General's Office.

They've been able to do so, by using the Social Security numbers and other personal information they found in the DMF. Something that tax preparers try to avoid.

"We do have a series of questions that we ask, and then they do have to provide proof to us that they did do that. And there's different things that we do try to prevent, you know, this from happening. Can't say that we always catch it, but it is something that we definitely try to prevent," said Tina Alton, Liberty Tax Preparer.

Now what's even more surprising is that even though this file has been around since 1980, the SSA only discovered that it was not allowed to disclose these death records, last November.

"But people need to know the Death Master File can be a good thing. But if it's used improperly, it can also be a bad thing," said Rita McCrobie.

The Social Security Administration hasn't said why it's taken so many years to discover it was doing something wrong.

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