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Lawmaker offers anti-ID theft law to foil crooks who profit off dead children

WASHINGTON – A key congressman intends to introduce legislation Friday to foil ID thieves who use publicly available personal information to profit off the deaths of children by filing bogus tax returns.

Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, who chairs the House Ways and Means’ Subcommittee on Social Security, is drafting a measure to make the Social Security numbers of deceased children “safe and secure” from such crooks, a spokeswoman said.

Johnson plans to further probe the crime at a January hearing.

The moves come two weeks after a Scripps Howard News Service investigation showed how thieves obtain and use the deceased’s Social Security numbers — which are released freely by the government — to falsely claim the children as dependents and fraudulently collect refunds.

Also, Rep. James Moran, D-Va., said he has contacted Social Security to request that the agency limit the information made public.

Responding to the Scripps investigation, Sens. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., met Wednesday with Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue. Also, Rep. James Moran, D-Va., said he has contacted Social Security to request that the agency limit the information made public.

That information is released as part of the Social Security Administration’s “Death Master File,” which was created in 1980 when a fraud-fighting businessman sought it to protect pension companies from getting duped. But Ronald Perholtz, who won a court-ordered release of the records, has told Scripps he is dismayed by the file’s misuse by crooks.

Social Security officials have acknowledged the file is abused, but say they need a new law to tighten release of the death file.

Jonathan Agin, whose daughter, Alexis, 4, died from a brain-stem tumor in January and this October learned thieves had claimed her as a dependent to profit off her death, applauded the new legislation.

Agin, of Arlington, Va., said he hopes the new legislation will become law and eliminate the fraud. Then, he said, grieving parents like him “will have one less thing to have to deal with.”

(Email reporters Isaac Wolf at wolfi(at)shns.com and Thomas Hargrove at hargrovet(at)shns.com)

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

Story Tags: theft law, Thomas Hargrove, Jonathan Agin, Michael Astrue, Scripps Howard News Service, Ronald Perholtz, Isaac Wolf




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