It’s No Joke: Proving You’re Alive to the Social Security Administration
You are a unique individual. You have your own thoughts, feelings, hopes and desires. Yet, in any number of government databases, you are a numbered case file with a name attached.
Given the sheer volume of people the government has to keep track of, perhaps their impersonal touch can be forgiven in the name of expediency and efficiency. But, sometimes this bureaucratic system is far from a well-oiled machine, particularly when it comes to correcting errors. In cases that seem to be cropping up more and more, the Social Security Administration is stopping people’s benefits due to death. The problem? Many of them are still very much alive!
Mistakenly Ending Up On Death Master File Carries Grave Consequences
The SSA maintains a compilation of U.S. deaths known as the Death Master File, or DMF. Every year, about 2.8 million verified death reports are added to the DMF. Each death report lists a name, Social Security number, date of death, date of birth and the ZIP code of last known residence.
Most of the individuals who wind up on the DMF have truly passed on. But, one-half of one percent – approximately 14,000 people every year – make it onto the DMF in error.
Usually, these mistakes are due to human error and an oversight as innocuous as a misplaced keystroke. But, when it comes to the DMF, typos can have devastating consequences.
“You go to your bank to cash a check and find out your account is closed,” Steven Weisman, a professor at Bentley University who specializes in identity theft and scams told Consumer Reports. “Or maybe you apply for credit and are told you are dead,” he added. “You might stop receiving government benefits or disability checks.” The DMF is publically available because of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, so a scam artist could also lift your information from the file to apply for credit in your name.
Resurrecting Yourself From a Death Listing
You may think getting off the DMF would be as simple as calling in to prove you’re still breathing – but any Social Security attorney will tell you it is not always so easy. At a minimum, you’ll have to show up with a photo ID and meet face-to-face with an SSA staffer to remove an erroneous death listing. That’s if you’re very, very lucky.
More likely, you’ll have to track the error to its source, whether it’s a county clerk’s office, funeral home, health insurance company or family member. Then, if a death certificate has been issued, you’ll need to get it amended and send it out to banks, credit bureaus, insurers and other interested parties to let them know you’re still alive.
And, there is the matter of the benefits you’ve missed during the time the SSA thought you were dead. If the government, an employer or an insurer is not forthcoming with these payments, a lawyer may be able to help you recover them.
You probably never thought proving you are alive would be a challenge, let alone one you may realistically have to face. But, dozens of Americans are confronted with this problem every day. If you are one of them, contact a Social Security attorney as soon as possible to protect your benefits.