Over the past few years, thousands of Americans over 100 years old applied through the U.S. government for employment eligibility verification.
Flawed data say millions over age 112 have Social Security numbers, not because we are living longer or seeing a trend toward an older workforce. Federal auditors say erroneous records are a sign of potential identity fraud.
A recent watchdog review found that at least 6.5 million active Social Security numbers belong to people who are at least 112 years old. The Gerontology Research Group reports only 35 living individuals worldwide had reached that age as of October 2013.
The review faulted the Social Security Administration for poorly managing data on “numberholders who exceeded maximum reasonable life expectancies and were likely deceased.”
The Social Security Administration’s inspector general responded saying the government is at risk of fraud and waste. Social Security does not have death records for millions of these people, with the oldest born in 1869.
The review found that one individual opened bank accounts using Social Security numbers for individuals born in 1869 and 1893. The official active Social Security numbers database shows that both beneficiaries were alive, meaning they would be more than 120 years old.
Nearly 3,900 Social Security numbers were run through the U.S. government’s E-Verify system for people over the age of 100 between 2008 and 2011.
Auditors also discovered that more than 60,000 Social Security numbers were used to report wages for people other than the cardholders, a total of about $3 billion in earnings between 2006 and 2011.
The Social Security Administration generates the Death Master File, a list of dead people to help public agencies and private companies know when Social Security numbers are no longer valid for use. However, none of the 6.5 million people cited by the inspector general's report was on the list.
The report says only 13 of the people are still getting Social Security benefits, but for others, their Social Security numbers are still active. This means a number could be used to report wages, open bank accounts, obtain credit cards or claim fraudulent tax refunds.
Heads of the Senate committee that oversees the Social Security Administration, Senators Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) said in a joint statement that the agency needs to clean up its files to prevent fraud.
Auditors suggested that the agency take action to correct its death records, but the agency disagreed. Agency representatives want to focus resources on improving payment accuracy with benefits.
“The recommendations would create a significant manual and labor-intensive workload and provide no benefit to the administration of our programs,” Social Security management said in response to the review.
Senior advisor Sean Brune said it would be costly and time-consuming to update 6.5 million files that were generated decades ago, when the agency used paper records.
The agency did agree to other proposals, including one to resolve cases in which multiple individuals are using the same number.
The internal watchdog's review does not document any fraudulent activity, but still raises red flags for government officials.
Story by Jessica Gottsleben.
Photos courtesy of wiki media commons.