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New bill aims to stop ID thieves from profiting off children’s deaths | The …

WASHINGTON – ID thieves would have a harder time trying to profit off the deaths of children and others under a House bill introduced Friday to limit access to Social Security numbers available online.

When Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, unveiled the “Keeping IDs Safe Act of 2011,” he criticized Social Security’s publicly released Death Master File, which has been used for at least a decade by thieves to access Social Security numbers, file bogus tax returns to the Internal Revenue Service and collect refunds.

Johnson’s “KIDS Act” would effectively end public access to the death file, which now can be searched for a small fee or even for free on genealogy and other online sites. The files contain the Social Security numbers and other personal information that can easily be used by identity thieves.

The bill’s introduction came two weeks after an ongoing Scripps Howard News Service investigation documented cases across the country where ID thieves have used the Social Security numbers of dead children to file bogus tax returns claiming the children as their dependents and routing the refunds to themselves.

Johnson also blamed the administration of the death file for making life miserable for 14,000 still-living Americans a year who are erroneously listed as dead, which can place them in an Orwellian nightmare where it’s difficult to get jobs or open bank accounts, the Scripps investigation found in July.

“Any one of us could be put on that list by mistake — a mistake that can result in severe financial hardship and emotional headache,” said Johnson, who chairs the House Ways and Means’ Subcommittee on Social Security.

“Any one of us could be put on that list by mistake — a mistake that can result in severe financial hardship and emotional headache,” said Johnson, who chairs the House Ways and Means’ Subcommittee on Social Security.

The legislation, if passed, would allow only law enforcement, tax administrators and government researchers and statisticians to have access to the death file. Under the bill, banks and credit bureaus — which currently use the records to deter fraud, the purpose for which the death file originally was created in 1980 — would not be able to use them.

“We need to stop making it so easy for criminals to gain access to our personal information,” said Johnson, who cited several Scripps findings in his floor speech and accompanying press release. He plans to hold a January hearing on the death file, a spokeswoman said.

The bill introduction comes two days after Sens. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., met with Social Security Administration Commissioner Michael Astrue, calling on the agency to limit information released in the death file.

At the meeting Astrue reiterated his position that a new law is needed before Social Security makes any changes to the death file’s availability, Nelson said. Astrue refused to answer questions by reporters following that meeting.

Nelson said he plans to solicit legal advice from the Justice Department, which prosecutes ID theft cases involving dead children’s Social Security numbers.

Nelson introduced legislation in September to create a 2-year waiting period before the deceased’s Social Security numbers are freely released, but now says he wants the agency to institute a fix until his measure becomes law.

A spokesman for The Compassionate Friends USA, an Oak Brook, Ill. nonprofit that serves grieving parents, lauded the bill. “Too many families have been robbed twice — first by the death of a child and second by the theft of that child’s identity,” Wayne Loder said. “It’s time that this problem is confronted by our legislators.”

(E-mail reporters Isaac Wolf at wolfi(at)shns.com and Thomas Hargrove at hargrovet(at)shns.com)

Story Tags: Bill Nelson, Sam Johnson, Michael Astrue, Internal Revenue Service, House Ways and Means’ Subcommittee on Social Security, Isaac Wolf




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