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Congress calls for hearing on dead child ID theft

WASHINGTON – Congress will examine a federal policy that enables “vultures” to exploit dead children’s identities and steal tax refunds, a key lawmaker said.

Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, called for a hearing on the policy after a Scripps Howard News Service investigation showed how thieves obtain and use Social Security numbers — which are freely released by the government — to submit false tax returns.

“Identity thieves are capitalizing on the overexposure of our Social Security numbers and are now aiming their sights on children,” said Johnson, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee on Social Security. It oversees the Social Security Administration.

Responding to the Scripps report, Johnson on Friday said his committee soon would hold “hearings as part of its effort to do what’s right for children and their families, by better protecting them from ID theft.”

Since 1980, the Social Security Administration has released vital information on every deceased American via the so-called “Death Master File.” Federal officials say that ID thieves are able to submit false tax returns using these records, which are posted online by popular genealogy sites, including Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org, a free site run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“One avenue reportedly used by these vultures is the Social Security Death Master File,” Johnson said in a statement to Scripps.

Some families have filed tax returns after the death of a child, only to learn that crooks already have claimed that child as a dependent — compounding their grief. In a report Thursday, Scripps identified 28 families, from California to Georgia, who say thieves sought to profit off their dead children.

Children aren’t the only targets. Internal Revenue Service officials said that shady tax filers submitted an estimated 350,000 returns on dead Americans this tax season, falsely claiming up to $1.25 billion in refunds.

Johnson has long considered poorly secured Social Security numbers to be a factor in ID theft. He co-sponsored legislation in 2009 that, among other things, would have prohibited the public release of such sensitive information. It died quietly.

This September, Johnson pointed out that the volume of child ID theft cases reported annually to the Federal Trade Commission jumped 192 percent from 2003 to 2009.

“From the criminal’s view point, children provide easy targets since they have no debt history and no reason to check their credit records,” he said.

(Email reporter Isaac Wolf at WolfI(at)shns.com.)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com)

“Identity thieves are capitalizing on the overexposure of our Social Security numbers and are now aiming their sights on children,” said Johnson, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee on Social Security.

WASHINGTON – Congress will examine a federal policy that enables “vultures” to exploit dead children’s identities and steal tax refunds, a key lawmaker said.

Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, called for a hearing on the policy after a Scripps Howard News Service investigation showed how thieves obtain and use Social Security numbers — which are freely released by the government — to submit false tax returns.

“Identity thieves are capitalizing on the overexposure of our Social Security numbers and are now aiming their sights on children,” said Johnson, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee on Social Security. It oversees the Social Security Administration.

Responding to the Scripps report, Johnson on Friday said his committee soon would hold “hearings as part of its effort to do what’s right for children and their families, by better protecting them from ID theft.”

Since 1980, the Social Security Administration has released vital information on every deceased American via the so-called “Death Master File.” Federal officials say that ID thieves are able to submit false tax returns using these records, which are posted online by popular genealogy sites, including Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org, a free site run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“One avenue reportedly used by these vultures is the Social Security Death Master File,” Johnson said in a statement to Scripps.

Some families have filed tax returns after the death of a child, only to learn that crooks already have claimed that child as a dependent — compounding their grief. In a report Thursday, Scripps identified 28 families, from California to Georgia, who say thieves sought to profit off their dead children.

Children aren’t the only targets. Internal Revenue Service officials said that shady tax filers submitted an estimated 350,000 returns on dead Americans this tax season, falsely claiming up to $1.25 billion in refunds.

Johnson has long considered poorly secured Social Security numbers to be a factor in ID theft. He co-sponsored legislation in 2009 that, among other things, would have prohibited the public release of such sensitive information. It died quietly.

This September, Johnson pointed out that the volume of child ID theft cases reported annually to the Federal Trade Commission jumped 192 percent from 2003 to 2009.

“From the criminal’s view point, children provide easy targets since they have no debt history and no reason to check their credit records,” he said.

(Email reporter Isaac Wolf at WolfI(at)shns.com.)

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com)

Story Tags: Social Security Administration, Sam Johnson, Ways and Means Committee, Scripps Howard News Service, Isaac Wolf





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