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Kimberly Powell

Genealogy Sites Pressured Into Removing SSDI

By December 16, 2011

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In November, GenealogyBank removed social security numbers from one of their popular free databases, the U.S. Social †Security Death Index, after two customers complained their privacy was violated when the Social Security Administration falsely listed them as deceased. This week, Ancestry.com followed suit, removing the entire free SSDI database (aka SSA's Death Master File) which has been online at RootsWeb.com for over a decade. They also made changes to the SSDI database behind their membership wall on Ancestry.com "due to sensitivities around the information in this database," removing Social Security numbers from the results for individuals who have died in the last 10 years.

The reasons for these changes began with a report following a Scripps Howard News Service investigation in October 2011, that complained about individuals using Social Security Numbers for deceased individuals found online to commit tax and credit fraud, and culminated in the recent decision by several major genealogy companies to remove access to the Social Security Death Master File on their websites.

The removal of the SSDI from RootsWeb.com was apparently prompted by a petition sent on December 1, 2011, to the "five largest genealogy services" who currently host the Death Master File (SSDI) online†by U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), Bill Nelson (D-Florida) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Illinois), who have joined in support of recent legislation introduced by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) to remove all public access to the Social Security Death Master File.

The New York Times (which owns About.com) was among those receiving letters, although I don't include Social Security numbers on my About.com Genealogy site -- I just write about how to access and use the SSDI and link to websites that make it available online.

In the letter written to each company's chief, the Senators urge companies to "remove and no longer post on your website deceased individual's Social Security numbers" because they believe that the benefits provided by making the Death Master File readily available online are greatly outweighed by the costs of disclosing such personal information. While the letter does concede that posting the Social Security numbers "is not illegal" under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), it also goes on to point out that "legality and propriety are not the same thing."

The letter and the responses by Ancestry.com and GenealogyBank.com concern me deeply. If major genealogy companies aren't going to fight for genealogists' access to publicly available records, who is? I understand and am sympathetic to the concerns surrounding identity theft, but examples presented in the original investigation relate to individuals falsely claiming recently deceased children as dependents on their tax returns (which requires use of a Social Security number) -- a practice that should be easily unmasked by the IRS if they just checked the Social Security numbers against the federal SSDI database. That is the reason the SSA Death Master File was originally created -- to identify and prevent identity fraud by making it easy for governments, banks, credit agencies, and other authorities to easily confirm that a Social Security Number isn't being used dishonestly.

The letter, also sent to VitalRec.com and FamilySearch.org, claims that "...given the other information available on your website -- full names, birth dates, death dates -- Social Security numbers provide little benefit to individuals undertaking to learn about their familial history." [emphasis mine] The authors then go on to say"

While removing the Social Security numbers is preferred, your organization could also take a common-sense measure to protect Social Security numbers by only revealing the first three digits, also known as the 'area number.' This portion of the number is assigned by geographic region. As a result, these three numbers could also help researchers identify an individual based on geographic location without revealing the entire Social Security number.

How many of you have requested a copy of an ancestor's SS-5, or Social Security Application Form, based on information found in the SSDI? How many of you found the information obtained from this form (which can include much beyond just date of birth and death including parents' full names, current employer, etc.) of little benefit? You can, of course, request a copy of the SS-5 without a Social Security number, but it requires more work and time on the part of the SSA to respond to your request, and costs more to boot.

There are serious issues faced by individuals who are not dead whose information is mistakenly reported in the Death Master File. The time and paperwork to prove that you are not dead can be overwhelming. But this would still be an issue whether the database is publicly available or not. The birth date of these living individuals would also be publicly available in the SSDI, but for most people this is information that can easily be obtained from other sources as well.

As Megan Smolenyak so eloquently stated in her article Are We Going to Lose the Social Security Death Index (SSDI)? "...removing the database won't put a dent in the problem." Closing the door to the SSDI won't solve many of the problems the proposed legislation is trying to address, and there are other ramifications that perhaps the Senators and public have not considered. This database, as Megan points out, is used to good end by many people not immediately related to the deceased; use of the SSDI has helped investigators to solve cold cases as well as help identify next-of-kin for unclaimed coroner cases and soldiers whose remains have been recovered years or even decades after their death. The National Technical Information Service also points out use of the Death Master File by medical researchers, hospitals and oncology programs needing to track former patients and study subjects.

Also of note is the fact that the SSDI is not the only source of Social Security numbers available online. Ancestry.com has removed Social Security numbers from its SSDI database for deaths that have occurred within the past 10 years, but I can still access the Social Security number for my father-in-law who died in 2009 in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010, also online at Ancestry.com.

Rather than respond in panic or cave to public pressure and scrutiny, I would hope that the genealogy companies would instead focus on the needs of their customers by working with legislators to further educate them on the full range of issues involved, and perhaps find a compromise that better meets the need of both open access and privacy protection. Senator Bill Nelson, for example, is proposing stiffer penalties for those who steal identities for tax purposes as well as restricting public access to dead taxpayer's information for at least a year after their death. That's a far cry from removing the entire SSDI from public access, and also focuses on the problem (the illegal and immoral actions of the identity thieves themselves) rather than further restricting access to a valuable tool that was created for the purpose of deterring fraud. A change in IRS law, increasing the service's legal authority to share information on identity theft cases with outside law enforcement authorities, or even with taxpayers themselves, would also better directly address the issue -- a loophole closure that has been introduced in several bills since 2001 with little traction. My heart goes out to the parents of those deceased children whose identities were stolen

In the meantime, the full SSDI (including Social Security numbers) is still available for free on FamilySearch.org and by subscription (or through a free trial) at Ancestry.com. And anyone can purchase their own copy of the current database for as little as $1800 (updates require a subscription), subscribe for a year for as little as $600, or purchase limited queries (i.e. 100 queries for $300). With the information obtained from the SSDI you can easily order a copy of the SS-5 Social Security application online.

UPDATE:

For genealogists and others looking for a way to express and share their views on this issue, I have linked to the contact pages for the four Senators above. You may also want to explore the following groups dedicated to genealogical/historical records access:

Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC)
Occupy Genealogy

Comments
December 16, 2011 at 8:14 am
(1) Harold Henderson says:

Most businesses, when pressured by a group of US Senators — no matter how ignorant — will try to make nice to them. Genealogists themselves will have to organize and explain to the politicians. Unfortunately we do not have the simpler story to tell. The simple idea is that “more privacy always makes me safe.” The idea that keeping dead people’s SSNs public prevents identity theft is counterintuitive until you think about it.

December 16, 2011 at 11:59 am
(2) Dee Dee King says:

RPAC appears to remain silent on this issue and there is nothing about this issue posted on their website.

December 17, 2011 at 2:55 am
(3) Liz Haigney Lynch says:

There is a House bill as well to shut off the SSDI to general research access (HR 3475 introduced by Sam Johnson, R-TX3). I wrote something about it here.

It would amend the Social Security Act language to strike the words “for statistical and research activities” and insert “for law enforcement, tax administration, and statistical and research activities conducted by Federal agencies and for statistical and research activities conducted by State agencies.” At the moment it’s sitting in committee.

The Scripps stories were localized around the country and focused on a particularly heart-tugging subset of fraud cases — deceased children claimed falsely as dependents on tax returns. Is this a huge number of cases every year? How did it compare to other instances of identity of fraud? The stories didn’t say. Focusing on this subset of cases is a very effective tactic — who’s going to want to argue with bereaved families?

But panic reactions make bad law, so somebody has to argue back. Apparently that somebody isn’t Ancestry, which is a short-sighted move on their part IMHO. RPAC’s silence is very disappointing.

December 18, 2011 at 10:35 pm
(4) david hart says:

This is sheer stupidity! Social Security Numbers are so prevalent in so many places that thieves, etc., have no need to look a the SSDI! These people are dead, after all. Before any taking away a useful source of information for historians of all varieties, a thorough study should be done to determine how may people have really be hurt by someone using the SSDI. With all the problems facing Congress this one shouldn’t even be on the horizon.

December 20, 2011 at 1:10 am
(5) Lauren says:

Very well written article. Thank you! I heartily agree with all of your statements.

December 20, 2011 at 9:39 am
(6) ~Kimberly says:

I chose not to post the full text of the letter I received since it was addressed to a representative of The New York Times, parent company to About.com. However, Senator Sherrod Brown in a press release celebrating the victory of having Ancestry.com remove the SSDI from RootsWeb.com, has included the full text of the letter sent by him and his fellow Senators to Ancestry — the same letter that was sent to About.com Genealogy (which doesn’t host the SSDI or include Social Security Numbers on its pages).

http://brown.senate.gov/newsroom/press_releases/release/?id=eae8101c-7974-4913-bb3c-4e4c65fb9bb7

December 20, 2011 at 9:49 am
(7) Alvie L. Davidson CG says:

If the esteemed legislators think they are going to stop identify theft by closing access to SSDI they are only kidding themselves. What an identity thief can do is simply hack into the SSA computer and help themselves.
Is this bunch of legislators going to reach out and order every holder of the previously published CD’s of SSDI to turn their copy into the the government? I will hold onto mine until they pry it out of my cold dead hands.
RPAC has been addressing this issue since November 2011. Members of the hundreds of genealogical organizations need to step up and hound their legislative representatives. I called the Florida office of Senator Bill Nelson and his legislative aide simply said he would pass my comments to the senator. Big deal.

December 20, 2011 at 11:52 am
(8) Nancy Rogers says:

I would like to point out that I have seen situations where although a member of the family swore that the person was dead, the SSDI did not indicate such. This would then indicate to the general public who might have the Social Security number from another source that those who are looking for numbers to use in fraudulent fashion that they could use the number.
As an individual who has done research for others, the SSDI is frequently one of main starting points, in part because families are not staying together as they were in previous generations and I have used the index to tract down information on families that have become splintered.

December 22, 2011 at 12:44 am
(9) Linda J. Barnes says:

This is a joke! Whenever you go to a doctor’s office or medical facility they always ask for your SS# on their forms. Also I do probate research in our county office. Anyone can get SS#’s off of death certificates that are filed there on their computers. This is pure nonsense and once again shows how inept our gov officials are!

December 23, 2011 at 10:18 am
(10) Isabella says:

I don’t think this is a stupid thing. I think that maybe the politicians think we are stupid. I think it is all about someone or groups putting more money in their pockets and this was a creative way to do it.

My question is how did the people find out they were on the index. Were they researching family history? Did they try to apply for credit? What?

December 25, 2011 at 4:05 pm
(11) Darlene Baltus says:

I wish we had a voice in that we could write to those representatives to let them know how and why we feel that SSI access is important to doing genealogy. Maybe if they were actually using the information for genealogy; they would realize our point of view. I tried to write a letter to the Illinois representative but because I am not from Illinois, it would not go thru!

December 27, 2011 at 5:01 pm
(12) Robert Chapin says:

This news is outrageous. I can see both sides, but there has been an extreme overreaction.

My rant: SSDI Gone in Censorship Scandal

I feel my years as an SSDI user qualify my opinion.

January 21, 2012 at 9:43 pm
(13) Jonathan says:

My family was one of those profiled by Scripps. We were victimized twice. Once by losing our child to cancer, second time by someone stealing her SSN to file a tax return. We were forced to prove she was in fact our child. Those who are suggesting that this fix to the availability of the SSDI is ridiculous or stupid, take a step back and understand why more limitted access is necessary. Some suggest that the problem of the theft of deceased people’s SSN’s is not significant enough. Truly this is false. Out of the cancer community we belong to, we personally located more than 35 families whose children’s SSN’s were stolen. Think that’s not enough, of course to you all it isn’t because you obviously have not dealt with the death of your child.

Some estimate this type of id theft costs us upwards of 1.2 billion. Still not enough?

As for all of you in the geneology world, why the hell do you need my child’s SSN? Seriously. Yea, you can tell me that it’s all over the place, I say that’s simply not true. HR 3475 would stop a significant amount of criminal theft of SSN’s and fraudulant filings that cost the govt. billions. I see no need to continue to perpetuate this when a simple fix exists.

Finally, the 1980 consent decree that allows the publication of this list does not suggest that this level of disclosure is necessary. Rather, the federal govt. is in fact making this disclosure available.

I’m sure I haven’t changed your minds. That’s fine. You haven’t walked a mile in my shoes or been in the pediatric cancer community. You cannot understand the hell that this puts families through.

January 26, 2012 at 4:43 am
(14) rebecca says:

My grand father’s ssn has been placed on a geneological website and i have been in a battle with the man that put it there to remove it. He believes that because you are able to access this type of information on the web that he has the write to re-post it elsewhere. I have searched high and low for an answer to stop him. Does anyone know of a way to get him to remove it? Any advice will help. Please do not respond with your opinion about why re-posting a ssn is ok. Thank you.

February 2, 2012 at 9:41 am
(15) Jason Miller says:

My son died last September. When I went to file our taxes this year they were rejected because my son’s SSN had already been used on somebody elseís tax return. My wife and I have enjoyed a long marriage. No-one else was entitled to use my sonís information. When he died, it became public information. It was stolen to benefit someone elseís pocketbook. Please put your-self into our shoes. We already had to bury our son once, now we have to prove to the IRS that he is our son. We have to file paper returns as electronic are not accepted. It will take 8 to 12 weeks to even be looked at; if an error is found, which it will be, the criminal simply has to pay back the money with penalties. Few prosecutions exists in these cases as they can very easily lie and state that they simply made a mistake. If you actually think this is all ok, then I don’t understand you. I pray this never happens to you.

Preventing this information from becoming public needs to extend to all areas where this can be stolen, including the death certificate. The concept that “it’s available in so many places, it may as well be available on the SSDI as well” is not a valid argument. The fact that it would even be suggested is offensive. If you have a hard freeze, and a thaw that reveals multiple leaks in your plumbing, do you say, oh well no sense in fixing that one because the rest will still be leaking? No, You fix one at a time until the problem is gone. Someday, it might be you in my shoes. Close you eyes and imaging burying your baby in the ground. Imagine someone stealing the only thing they have left… their name. How accurate is a work history if someone has stolen that identity along the way?

My son’s name was Joshua Miller of Latham MO, he was 17. He died while driving. He was wearing his seat belt. His phone was in his pocket. He was on his way to work. Please be aware, under current laws you cannot stop this type of identity theft. This can’t be ok.

Jason Miller

February 21, 2012 at 11:57 am
(16) Mike says:

I feel sorry for the two people who had kids died under tragic circumstances, but I can just tell they are ignorant about genealogy…notice one even misspells the simple word “genealogy”? That tells me they have never tackled genealogy in their life. Also, I believe the sponsors are non genealogists so they have no sympathy or understand why this index is so essential to research.

Both of them assume genealogists have never had tragedies in their life, or injustices, or sorrow. That is just plain offensive. It is horrible what happened to your son, but I also had an uncle murdered for only 20 dollars on the streets of Newark 15 years ago. You are not alone or immune to tragedy, so using your cases to deny me access to this genealogy tool is doubly offensive to myself and the genealogists of this world.

February 21, 2012 at 12:42 pm
(17) Mike says:

One other thing I want to say is directed toward the person who claims to be in a “cancer community.”

One, many of us walk in those shoes. How dare you suggest anybody who enjoys family history has not endured pain or sadness or tragedy? How dare you, DARE YOU, make even a suggestion we never walked in the shoes of someone who endured a loss of a family member. The audacity you show is compelling enough to discard your entire diatribe, but I shall categorically answer your charges.

Two, for your information, the SSDI does not publish the numbers, or even posts the names, of children under 21. Ergo, this is another clueless person who is using their child’s passing (using emotion and pathos) to claim something that is not true at all. Stop your lies and misinformation.

Three, not even the legislators are aware of the SSDI as a genealogy tool. I have called all the sponsors and the people on the phone, the aides, are 100 percent CLUELESS as to why genealogists use this index. This shows IGNORANCE of non genealogists and legislators alike.

Shame on you, and your cohorts Johnson, Durbin, Sherrod Brown, by hoodwinking the public by making outrageous claims, many of which are not supported by a scintilla of tangible evidence!

Shame on YOU!

Yes, identity theft costs a lot. That is not due to a genealogy index, Einstein. A thief is going to get any information on you no matter how “safe” you hide your information. Deal with it.

February 29, 2012 at 10:46 pm
(18) C Schomaker says:

(13) Jonathan and (15) Jason: Is IRS requiring the party who misused your child’s SSN to prove anything? If not, why not? Why is IRS discriminating against you simply because your tax return came in second? The mere fact that they received two returns using the same SSN should require that both to be scrutinized.

After you establish your parentage, will IRS file fraud charges or take any action against the perpetrators of the crime? If not, why on earth not? The perps didn’t just mistype a number if they entered your child’s name. You can’t do that “by mistake”.

Public access to the Social Security Death Index did not cause these crimes. And the foolish legislation that these bullying congressmen propose would do nothing more than ensure that only criminals have access to identifying information.

March 1, 2012 at 8:57 pm
(19) Robert says:

The primary issue I’m hearing is not being able to claim a (deceased) child as a dependent on the parent’s tax return. Can’t the SSA simply delay the posting of the SSN’s of the recently dead by a year or two? After all, no one should be allowed to claim a person who’s been for two years. Wouldn’t this solve the problem for everyone?

March 6, 2012 at 10:04 am
(20) Jason says:

I am amazed at some of the follow up responces on this posting. I hadn’t even been back to this in a while to see what people had said about these issues. Mike, you should be ashamed of yourself. A mispelled word does not indicate ignorance nor does it imply a lack of knowledge about a subject that you may very well be familiar with. Name calling is childish at best but we will leave it at that. As far as a knowledge of geneology we, my wife and I, have traced our ancestry back to the 1600′s. Never once did we need a family members Social Security Number, especially one that had died in the last 10 years. Please, if you are going to make an argument, make a valid one. Don’t take apart what is said beyond what it is worth at face value. No-one is attacking your beliefs or your way of life. Someone has attacked mine though and this puts me in a position where I have to defend my son. No-one else will, will you? As to the other respondents, yes the IRS will investigate it, but the initial burdon of proof is on our shoulders. The investigation takes several months. The point is it could have been prevented, not that it could be corrected. There is little value in having a conversation if you will not consider the other side. I understand your opinion on this, but tell me how this information being delayed a few years from being made public hurts your research? Thank you, Jason

March 6, 2012 at 2:39 pm
(21) ~Kimberly says:

Jason,

I have to applaud you for your very thoughtful response in light of the pain and heartache you’ve been through. I’m a parent of three wonderful children and can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it must be to cope with losing a child. I hope that you realize that as with all things, some commenters are more informed than others. I especially appreciate that you seem to be considering both sides of this issue, despite the pain of your personal situation, and don’t appear to be promoting complete removal of the SSDI to public access, but rather a limitation on more recent entries.

While the SSDI isn’t a necessary tool for researching family history once you have made your way back to older generations, genealogists do consider it an invaluable tool for 20th and 21st century genealogy research. It is used regularly by genealogists such as those tracing living heirs and adoptees, as well as those involved with military repatriation projects, who need to locate living family members for DNA to accurately identify the recovered remains of previously unaccounted-for servicemen. There are also, as surprising as it may sound, a number of people who have no knowledge of their own family history beyond their parents and grandparents and genealogists regularly use the SSDI as a research tool for locating obituaries and other valuable records for these recent ancestors, as well as birth locations and/or parent names for people with recent immigrant ancestors.

I think many genealogists would favor some type of imposed limitations to access, such as not including social security numbers for children under 18 for a period of time. The bigger focus, however, needs to be on our government who created this tool for the purpose of preventing identity theft. I realize that the IRS does investigate these cases, but wouldn’t that money and time be better spent better utilizing the SSDI for preventing these fraudulent tax returns, using pin numbers for online tax filing, etc.? There are so many ways that someone can access a deceased (or living) individual’s social security number. Instead we need to focus on how to prevent misuse and fraud.

Kimberly

March 6, 2012 at 2:56 pm
(22) Jason says:

Mike, I was just reading over your last comment where you said that the SSDI does not publish ssn’s for anyone under 21. I don’t know where you got this information from but it is completely wrong. My son died when he was 17 and I found all of his information, including his SSN on familysearch.org as recent as February 2nd. I’m not sure when it changed but I saw today that it is no longer on there, Thank God!
I also, while doing an interview with a local newspaper, went through every obituary for the newspaper, newstribune.com, and provided to the reporter a detailed report of every person that had died in 2011 including their SSN’s. This report included 4 children. Mike, unless you yourself are an identity thief why don’t you do a credit to your level of intelligence and research this for yourself. Read the countless stories of people that have had this happen. You so far have bashed the victims of the crimes that have occurred without even so much as offering a shred of evidence of how the SSN’s have helped you. Understand this, I work in the computer industry and can tell you that if there is any chance that the data we use has been compromised then the data becomes worthless.

March 6, 2012 at 3:41 pm
(23) Jason says:

I know for a fact that the SSN’s provided via the SSDI have resulted in identity theft. Once a SSN has been used by someone that it doesn’t belong to then the data associated with that SSN is no longer trustworthy. Lets say you were related to me and you were researching my son. You were trying to find out who his parents were and made a records request to the IRS or the SSA. The request comes back that I appeared on a tax return belonging to, oh I don’t know… BOB. Now you enter into your records that Josh’s dad is BOB. Never mind that it isn’t true. Or let’s say that someone starts using his SSN so they can get work, or do you contend that no-one uses deceased individuals SSN’s to get work? Now how valid is their work history? Can it be trusted that any of it is correct? This affects you too. You can not trust any of the data obtained by a records search if there is any possibility that the data may have been compromised. Based on you previous comments you will likely respond with anger to my own comments without any consideration to the truth or possibility that the data has been and is still to this day – compromised. One more thing, you should be ashamed for implying to the poster Jonathon that he “Claims” to be a family member of a cancer survivor. Your entire argument, no matter how valid it may be, becomes insulting and discarded in the eyes of many when you accuse someone who may have very well suffered an incredible loss of lying. Unless you know for sure, then don’t say things like that. Thank you for being considerate of others, like I hope your mother taught you to be. Kimberly thank you for stating the facts and the uses of the SSDI. There has to be a middle ground here in order to protect the interests of all parties involved.

March 6, 2012 at 3:48 pm
(24) Jason says:

Sorry, I meant to say “Your entire argument, no matter how valid it may be, becomes insulting and discarded in the eyes of many when you accuse someone who may have very well suffered an incredible loss of life.”

March 17, 2012 at 10:10 pm
(25) J McCarthy says:

These arguments are very sad. First, I am a long-term believer that the dead do not hold any, ANY privacy rights. Second, something does need to be acknowledged that criminals and perps are creating anguish for parents of children, whom have to file subsequent tax filings, when a criminal has used a deceased youth or childs’ SSN. Virtually, everyone that I have known in life has had some tragedy in their family. One does not get to be over 35, especially, and not have some relative or in-law succumb to some tragedy or early — unexpected death. It happens. We’ve all known tragic events in our past, recent and ancestral. I have researched family history matters for over 35 years, not as a profession but avocation. I’m, always, troubled and disturbed, when the politicians of any ilk or persuasion pull out the tear-jerking stories. I’ve have seen it going back over 30 years in my state. One, simply has to reasonably stand up to their myopia and write, organize, protest or whatever to stop the stupidity of closing records to researchers. Finally, the genealogical community must reach-out to the families of individuals, whom have had their SSN ripped-off for criminal purposes and let them know we will work with them.

July 18, 2012 at 11:07 pm
(26) George Bordner says:

I was amazed then appalled when I went online last year to use my favorite sight SSDI. Hundreds of Bordner, Bortner and Butner family members have used this sight for years; only to find out that “free” means pay us first. Follow the money! Ancester.com et al didn’t make a nickle on the “free” (paid by our taxes) SS government document. Now both the government and these private companies are bilking us for what we already paid for. Its only $xx/ mo or $1800 for the data base. Bend over all you genealogist, you’re about to meet your proctologist.

August 8, 2012 at 11:17 am
(27) Bill says:

Does anyone else find it interesting that a resource initially set up to help prevent fraudulent use of SSNs is able to be used specifically for that purpose?

Rather than deny access to the information contained on the SSDI, we should be up on arms as to why the information is not being handled appropriately and used effectively. Is this government ineptness at its finest or sheer laziness?

The other thing that just torques me to no end is our senators throwing the “legality and propriety are not one and the same” at us. This from some of the greatest offenders of legal loopholes.

While my heart goes out to those who have had to deal with the legal repercussions of having a lost love one’s identity stolen, this is not the fault of the information being available on a genealogy site; it is the fault of our government agencies not utilizing the data that is available specifically for the purpose of avoiding this situation in the first place!

August 13, 2012 at 12:10 am
(28) maria says:

“The Scripps stories were localized around the country and focused on a particularly heart-tugging subset of fraud cases ”

“These people are dead, after all”

That heart-tugging subset, that dead person..that’s our seven year old son who died of brain cancer. Our son whose identity was stolen for someone else’s selfish gain after his death.

The idea that the dead hold no privacy rights is ridiculous. Are we to believe that if your loved one dies and someone steals their identity you would be just fine with whatever was to be gained by that criminal act? I find that very doubtful.

How about we place blame squarly on the criminal, not families who are calling for action to be taken. And how about we act like human beings and stop reducing people, my child, to a couple heartless sentences. You discredit every one of your arguments when you try to reduce the life of my child to something unimportant to bolster your own point of view. Shame on you.

August 30, 2012 at 3:45 am
(29) ugg says:

I am curious to find out what blog system you have been working with?
I’m having some minor security problems with my latest blog and I’d like to find something more safeguarded.
Do you have any suggestions?

September 6, 2012 at 2:52 pm
(30) Michael says:

I did a random google search and cannot believe that I found my daughters SS# and date of birth were posted on http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com. How can they get away with this? I called the corporate office and was told by a manager “someone in your close family posted this”. I said really? So you are telling me that a distant relative has access to my daughters SS# and posted this? Also, how do you confirm that this “family member” is an actual family member and not some crook? Another thing… how about I post your date of birth and SS#, would that be ok? (note), the “family member” did not post any SS#’s, nor did they have access to my daughters SS#, it was the website that did so! There was silence as the manager was fumbiling what to say next. She then advised me to send an email with the link to their page and they will remove it within 5 days. I, again, am shocked that a genealogy website would post anybodies ss# for any reason and encourage everyone to check to see if they have been compromised!

September 26, 2012 at 2:50 pm
(31) gene says:

Maybe if all SSN’s were reported to the system by morticians some of this would be stopped. I had to do this when my wife passed. I noted through the years that many who I know for a fact are dead are still not in the index. The feds have so many computer systems yet I note many agencies don’t seem to be talking to one another. Anyone caught purposely utilizing another number for illicit gains needs to when/if caught severely beaten around the head and shoulders or worse. Anyone caught stealing another’s identity/assets through falsifying anything along these lines needs to be executed!

January 1, 2013 at 1:53 pm
(32) Bill Bowles says:

I have used the SSDI for years to check on deaths of former classmates in grade school and high school. It was a good way to update our invitation lists. This new restriction is just nonsense and a good way for the government to achieve more control over what should be publicly available information. Wouldn’t it be nice if our representatives could focus on issues important to this country rather than this trivia?

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August 19, 2013 at 5:59 pm
(35) Liz Anne says:

My son just recently googled his name and came up with a website that not only had his SSI# but mine and his siblings too… Yes your SSI# is out there for all to see for just 1 penny… Scary isn’t it???

September 22, 2013 at 1:48 pm
(36) Tim says:

The comments I’ve seen regarding SSN’s are compelling on both sides, not unlike 2nd amendment or abortion arguments where people have an opinion that is virtually cast in stone. With SSN’s, they should be (IMHO) hidden for several years after an individuals death but until reading tis article, I was not aware of the benefits of having an actual SSN other than to eliminate duplication (John Smith from NYC vs John Smith from NYC).

This thread has made me more apprehensive about using another recent tool and that’s DNA. The problems we currently have with SSN fraud and misuse pale in comparison to the potential abuse and misuse of DNA data (criminal abuse through “planting” of your DNA as evidence, unauthorized revealing of adoption records or false paternity ripping families apart, private medical information via genetic inheritance being made public, etc.).

If the IRS used a few more tools to analyze the SSN’s of dependents prior to issuing a credit for those individuals then this abuse can be quickly eliminated (delaying the return when a dependent transfers from one return to another until verified or after the filing deadline would be an easy fix for example and also flagging a return when a deceased number is used on a return as well).
…. cont.

September 22, 2013 at 1:51 pm
(37) Tim says:

… cont.

In these example, a simple letter from the IRS stating that, “Since one or more of the dependent you claimed on your return appeared as a dependent on another return last year, your return will not be processed until after April 15th to ensure this dependent is not claimed more than once. If this dependent is claimed on more than one form then all returns will be further analyzed, otherwise your return will expedited as a previously filed return.”.

As for anyone attempting to obtain credit under a deceased SSN, the credit reporting agencies need to assume some responsibility for issuing valid/good credit report for an individual who is dead. This could be accomplished by issuing a list of dead SSN’s to the credit card bureaus without any other identifying information so these numbers can not have a current credit report released (a “deceased” credit report could still be issued to resolve issues of probate among creditors but not to obtain new credit). There would still be the problem of erroneous reporting of dead individuals but that already happens so it’s not like this creates a new problem, only makes it harder to abuse the system.

The problem with legislation is that it tends to be done as a “knee-jerk” reaction without understanding the full ramifications of the legislation. We have a system where legislators are often judged on what legislation they proposed and how much federal money and jobs they bring back to their districts (which is not always a good measurement of an elected officials accomplishments).

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