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January 18, 2013 09:50 PM

Stealing The Dead's Identity

Sioux Falls, SD

We're told all the time to protect our Social Security numbers, but at the click of the mouse, identity thieves can access the full name, birth date and social security number of a dead person.

The information comes from the Social Security Administration itself and it's perfectly legal. But a KELOLAND man says it simply isn't ethical. 

The five year anniversary of Fred Blom's father's death, Fred Blom Sr., was approaching and he had him on his mind. 

"I typed my dad's last name and first name and everything else just followed and came right through. It definitely was his Social Security number," Blom said.

That's right, Blom's father's Social Security number popped up immediately on a death record website and that alarmed him.

"We had spent so much time with the accumulations of papers of shredding and burning and stamping out addresses and keeping social security and private information private and when this site came up showing date of birth, date of death, where they lived and some folks had tied in to where they worked.  And the big one was the Social Security number," Blom said.

“It’s totally legal," Jessie Schmidt with the Better Business Bureau said.

Schmidt constantly warns people to protect their Social Security numbers from identity theft.  But millions of names and social security numbers of the dead are on the Death Master File from the Social Security Administration and are available on a government website.  It costs $10 for one person's records and nearly a $1,000 for all the files. This is the data those commercial death record and genealogy websites use.

"We want all access to all this information, but unfortunately some very sensitive information is out there that really can be compromised for somebody and somebody can assume a whole new identity," Schmidt said.

Nearly 2.4 million deceased Americans have their identities stolen each year, at a rate of about 2,000 a day. Thousands of tax returns have been filed under the names of people who've died and identity thieves have also used the numbers to apply for everything from credit cards to cell phones. 

"Fraud costs a lot of money and the government says we've got money problems. Well, they do when they do stuff like this. You could have a legitimate website that would tell a lot of information without putting that Social Security number there," Blom said.

And for people like Blom, having his dad's identity at risk makes him sick.

"It would just be like taking their names and their memories and basically throwing them on the ground and walking on them. It would be like violating a cemetery where people would be very offended. It can happen in more ways than one.  You don't have to go to a cemetery. You can do things like this to violate the memories,' Blom said.

The Social Security Administration's Death Master File is available to the public because of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits.  A new law would need to be passed to put limits on the file.

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