Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Government News IT

Government Mistakenly Declares Deaths of Citizens 361

Posted by Soulskill
from the totally-nonsensationalist-headline dept.
superbrose writes "According to MSNBC, thousands of U.S. citizens have wrongfully been declared dead, due to an average of 35 data input errors per day by the Social Security Administration (SSA). Many other agencies rely on the data provided by the SSA, such as the IRS. People who have been wrongfully declared dead face many problems, such as rejection of tax returns, cancellation of health insurance, and closure of bank accounts. The article states, 'Input of an erroneous death entry can lead to benefit termination and result in financial hardship for a beneficiary.' Apparently it is far easier to declare a person's death than it is to correct the mistake. It continues, 'Social Security says an erroneous death record can be removed only when it is presented with proof that the original record was entered in error. The original error must be documented, and the deletion must be approved by a supervisor after "pertinent facts supporting reinstatement" are available in the system.'"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Government Mistakenly Declares Deaths of Citizens

Comments Filter:
  • by Nomen Publicus (1150725) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @09:45AM (#22615286)
    Just wait until everybody has ID cards. Having your card cancelled by mistake is going to really ruin your day, month and quite probably, year.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 02, 2008 @09:55AM (#22615332)
      Actually, ID helps in this case. The problem is what happens in a system in a corner room of some govt agency. But if you have an ID, it will be easier for you to prove you are alive - even if its canceled by mistake in a database.

      BTW, I just love the procedure to un-dead the deads!
      • by liquidpele (663430) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @10:36AM (#22615550) Journal
        No it won't help! If it did, I could walk in with some dead person's ID I stole and steal their identity.
        This is a simple matter of the IRS not giving a damn. Same thing happens if your identity is stolen. It takes an act of God for them to issue you a new social security number.
        • That's right. Because you'll be able to just print a photo of yourself on sticker stock and paste it over the photo on the ID. It's really that simple, and that's why we've completely given up on using IDs for anything.

          _Please_ notice the sarcasm intended.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by maxwell demon (590494)
          The IDs have a picture of you. Unless it's the ID of your dead twin, you'll probably not be able to claim it was you who's on that picture. That is, you'd have to counterfeit the ID.
          • My picture is of me when I was 15. I'm 26 now. Give me a break on the picture crap. If it's close, people generally don't question it. As for the poster above you, using ID to prove you have the ability to drive is one thing. Using it to bring a person back to life is different. They should, and are, treated differently. I'm not saying it should be hard to prove you're not dead, I'm just saying a single ID should not be the proof.
        • by OrangeTide (124937) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @01:48PM (#22616582) Homepage Journal
          California ID's require a thumb print and a photo, which are recorded at a central office. If your card does not match what they have on record, then it is a fake. If you don't match what is on record, then you are also a fake.

          I would hope that if I was marked as being dead someone could look at my birth certificate, and see that yes I'm about the right age. Then look at my state id, and check the photo and biometric information if available. And I assume a layperson is able to make the judgment that someone is alive when they are physically moving and talking to them.

          This is why I hate governments, so much fricken paperwork. My friend was accidentally assigned the same SSN as another person that was born on the same day and had the same name as him. He didn't find out until he had to get a background check for a job and found that the other guy has some felony arrests on his record.
      • Actually, ID doesn't help.
        This guy had a false death certificate [di2.nu] submitted for his name and is still having problems with it. He finally was able to get his accounts unfrozen, his marriage official, and a new ID card, but only after months of calls and visits to UK ID agency. To this day with his son, he still gets letters of "fraud detection" whenever they try to do something that piggy-backs on the ID system.


        Google cache [64.233.169.104] as main page isn't currently loading for me.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by sconeu (64226)
          Did you even RTFL? Read the dates on the correspondence in the link... that's fiction.
      • by vertinox (846076) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @11:23AM (#22615784)
        But if you have an ID, it will be easier for you to prove you are alive - even if its canceled by mistake in a database.

        How? If the database says you are dead, when someone scans the barcode it still says you are dead. Even if a government employee sees you appear to be alive and look like th eperson on the card, its going to take paper work and procedure to get that changed because often the people that you talk with (especially at the IRS) are not empowered to do anything of real value in this situation other than fill out a form.

        Secondly, I know people who look like nothing like license card. They gained weight, dyed their, had surgery, are sick, etc etc and have grief going into a bar much less deal with the government.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by nyonix (1001721)
          In my country, Portugal, we have a card for Social security, IRS and ID, all diferent numbers and all independent databases, so even if your wrongly declared dead in one of them, doesnt mean all others will be,and its not up to the Government services to declare you as dead. This year we will be getting an all-in-one card, but we will still have diferent numbers for each public service, our constituiton demands this.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by RKBA (622932)
      How about having your ID card canceled ON PURPOSE by a government that mistakenly puts you on the "terrorist" watch list, or because you didn't happen to bend over far enough for some beady eyed scumbag bureaucrat.
  • by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @09:48AM (#22615294) Homepage Journal
    Isn't there prior art in this case?

    Netcraft certainly have a business model that would appear to pre-date this government declaring things dead situation.
    • In a way.

      I hear the lead singer of Disaster Area spent a year dead for tax reasons; but you can't exactly chalk it up to human error.
  • by nurb432 (527695) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @09:49AM (#22615296) Homepage Journal
    If you live in a state where they verify your SSN to make sure you aren't illegal, it wouldn't match up properly and you would lose the offer with zero recourse.

    Not saying verification is wrong, but there needs to be some leeway for 'mistakes' like this.
    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      It may be too late. They probably hired someone else instead, and didn't even tell you why you didn't get the job (because they think you died??). Seems to me that if they are doing verification on your SSN, it should show up why your number is invalid (like because you're dead). In that case, it would seem that they might just check up, since they recently interviewed you, to see if there was some mistake in the verification.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mauthbaux (652274)
      you would lose the offer with zero recourse.

      This reminds me of the problems with employers running criminal background checks on all applicants. I've known people personally who were denied offers because a record popped up in the search when they submitted a name to a background check agency. The record that popped up was, of course, someone who matched in name only; race, age, maiden name, and everything else didn't at all match. The location where it happened was over 2000 miles from their residence at
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by nurb432 (527695)
        A lesser problem, but still a problem is when you talk about a person that has changed sexes, either by dress or surgery, and it still shows them as the 'other' at the federal level.

        Walk in as a female to an interview and get the offer pending a 'background check', but your records says you are male, not only wont you get the job, but you may get a visit by the FBI thinking you have stolen someone's ID.

        Even marriage and a simple last name change can stick it to you if you don't have all your records in sync
  • by JonasH (183422) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @09:51AM (#22615316) Homepage
    Being dead can quickly ruin your life!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 02, 2008 @09:54AM (#22615330)
    "I'm not dead!" [youtube.com]
  • Logic suggests... (Score:5, Informative)

    by tverbeek (457094) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @09:57AM (#22615346) Homepage

    Apparently it is far easier to declare a person's death than it is to correct the mistake.
    "As a matter of cosmic history, it has always been easier to destroy than to create." - Spock
  • due to an average of 35 data input errors per day by the Social Security Administration (SSA) ... deletion must be approved by a supervisor after "pertinent facts supporting reinstatement" are available in the system.'"

    Wouldn't the "pertinent facts" be easily established by looking at the incoming documentation saying "Jane Smith, Age 83, SSN XXX-XX-1234 died on 1/1/08" and noticing that "Billy McAnyone, Age 30, XXX-XX-1243" is the one you killed? I mean we're talking about clerical errors within the SSA so their own documentation won't match- how hard is this to (god forbid) detect on their own, none the less validate after the living-dead point out the problem?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ptbob (737777)
      The "Proof" to correct an error like this always takes more information than was used to screw it up in the first place. I work for the federal government and use a Voyager credit card to purchase gasoline and vehicle services. I bought 3 quarts of ATF and the clerk at the station rang it up as a food sale, but for the correct amount. Both myself and my supervisor had to fill out and sign paperwork stating that the statement was in error and that ATF was purchased, not food. A wasted 15 minutes for both of
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        Are you seriously having to buy automatic transmission fluid in 3-quart quantities at service stations to keep a vehicle functioning that is funded by the government? I hope it's not a fleet vehicle.
    • by ptbarnett (159784) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @11:28AM (#22615808)

      Wouldn't the "pertinent facts" be easily established by looking at the incoming documentation saying "Jane Smith, Age 83, SSN XXX-XX-1234 died on 1/1/08" and noticing that "Billy McAnyone, Age 30, XXX-XX-1243" is the one you killed?

      That would actually require that someone analyze the results and make a judgment call. The SSA doesn't hire data entry operators that can make those decisions.

      The solution is the same as what was used years ago in the punch card era: every input is performed twice. After the first data entry operator entered the data on a set of punch cards, the deck of cards went to a second operator who would duplicate the data entry in "verify" mode. Any discrepancies would sound a buzzer, and the second operator would have to stop and re-enter the data or create a new card with the correction.

      Today, it wouldn't be difficult to simply assign the data to two different data entry operators and then compare the results -- flagging any differences for review.

      However, that won't solve the problem of incorrect incoming data. Requiring input (and verification) of additional details like name, age, etc. would allow those to be validated against existing records, spitting out exceptions for review.

  • by ptr2004 (695756) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @10:18AM (#22615446)
    Lal Bihari
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lal_Bihari [wikipedia.org]
    He founded the Association of the Dead .. for chrissake !!
  • by golodh (893453) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @10:27AM (#22615510)
    to make reality conform to the records. Purely as an administrative procedure you see. Off the record of course, but much quicker than setting about altering the records.

    After all ... we can't have inaccurate records now, can we? That would be the road to chaos! And think of the savings. We wouldn't have to go on record recording changes to the records, and who benefit from such a record?

    Why not set up an adminstrative comittee suitably empowered to, and responsible for, maintaining the integrity of the records? How about that? It would solve this little problem in record time!

  • The IRS identifies you by your SSN, too.

    rj
  • what if.... (Score:4, Funny)

    by theheadlessrabbit (1022587) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @10:28AM (#22615516) Homepage Journal
    what happens if a person makes a mistake filling out the paperwork declaring that they are, in fact, alive?
    will the clerk sitting behind the desk hand the papers back to you, stating that you have not given sufficient proof that you are alive.

    at that point, i would likely flip out and start eating brains.
    Not her brain, mind you, because if she fails to realize that standing in front of her kinda proves that I am alive; thats not a brain worth eating.
  • Hotblack Desiato (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Dannkape (1195229)
    How many of those "thousands" went on "spending a year dead for tax reasons" before bothering to clear things up?
  • Folks inside and outside the US can buy it in several different formats: http://www.ntis.gov/products/pages/ssa-death-master.asp [ntis.gov]
  • This is great news! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tomhudson (43916) < ... <nosduh.arabrab>> on Sunday March 02, 2008 @10:35AM (#22615548) Journal

    This is the most effective way to live "off the grid!" No more taxes, etc.

    Think of the legal implications.

    Its against the law to "mistreat" a dead body. So, no death penalty for someone declared dead. Also, since you're dead, they can't stick you in a jail cell (the state won't to pay to jail a dead person, and other detainees would have a good complaint, cruel and unusual punishment and all that). Heck, they can't even put the cuffs on you without running afoul of the requirement to treat a dead body with all due respect and dignity .... someone should take this and really run with it.

    Of course, there's the downside. No more sex, since necrophilia is also against the law ...

  • The original error must be documented, and the deletion must be approved by a supervisor after "pertinent facts supporting reinstatement" are available in the system.
    I guess the supposedely deceased being present when the request for reinstatement is handed in won't count as a "pertinent fact" until he has been stabbed with a wooden stake and shot with a silver bullet?
    • by Skreems (598317)
      At that point reality probably matches government records without any further work needed.
  • Then I could collect social security!
  • Bureaucracy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mlwmohawk (801821) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @10:51AM (#22615620)
    I remember an episode that happened about 10 years ago.

    I live in a two family house. I moved from the first floor to the second floor. In the phone junction box, I just swapped the wires. I figured no problem. I called the phone company to tell them what I did (In the form of "I was about to do") and they said, no you can't do that. They have to send a technician to the pole in front of the house to change the wires and change their computer records, of course, there was a service fee involved.

    I was pissed off, then it occurred to me, I called the phone company again to say that they had made a mistake and the phone lines had been wrongly addressed and would they please update the computer records for 911 service. The answer was O.K. Mr ....

    Moral of the story, a "mistake" is easily corrected when it isn't merely "you," but another bureaucracy that has an importance. In the case of the phone records, it was 911 service. Screw that up, and there is civil liability involved. In the case of the SSI, I bet they'd adjust those records quickly if you said you were having problems paying your income tax and should you just refer the IRS to them?
  • Proof? (Score:5, Funny)

    by guttentag (313541) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @10:53AM (#22615634) Journal

    Social Security says an erroneous death record can be removed only when it is presented with proof that the original record was entered in error.
    "Uh, hello? I'm here. I'm alive. What more proof do you need?"
    "You have to prove that the record was entered in error, sir."
    "You mean I have to find the data entry clerk and get a notarized statement that he didn't mean to mark me as dead? What if he meant to do it, because he's become mad with power?"
    "Then you're dead, sir."
    "If I'm dead, why are you still calling me 'sir?'"
    "It's in the handbook: 'All male customers must be addressed as sir, regardless of age, national origin, ethnicity, or disability.' I think being dead would qualify as a disability. Anyway, it's not worth losing my job over. Next in line!"
  • Perhaps the checks and balances should be in place to file an individual as dead. How is it possible to do this via a data entry error?
  • Life Insurance (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MrShaggy (683273) <chris.anderson@nOsPam.hush.com> on Sunday March 02, 2008 @10:56AM (#22615650) Journal
    Does that mean that you can cash in the phat insurance check??
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sik0fewl (561285)
      That might make it easier to get yourself declared as 'alive' again.

      Call your insurance company and let them know that, according to the SSA, *you* have died and would like to collect your insurance money. I'm sure they would be happy to sort things out with the SSA instead of paying you :).
  • by RedOregon (161027) <redoregon AT satx DOT rr DOT com> on Sunday March 02, 2008 @10:59AM (#22615672) Homepage Journal
    ...when government declares you dead... you are!
  • by Gadget_Guy (627405) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @11:02AM (#22615680)

    I think that it is a good thing that it is easier to declare someone dead than undead. Firstly, people die more often than they come back to life so it is a much more common thing to need to do.

    Secondly, in this day and age of identity theft, you don't want to make it too convenient for someone to turn up claiming to be a person that everyone thought was dead. We aren't living in a soap opera, you know!

  • by Anonymous Admin (304403) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @11:03AM (#22615682)
    I'm not dead yet. ... I'm feeling better. ...
  • Perhaps the government knows something those citizens don't.
  • by rrz103 (725918) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @11:05AM (#22615698)

    This is a bigger problem than the post alludes to. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) put in to effect a new rule, called the "No-Match Rule" which requires an employer to terminate an employee when receiving a letter from the DHS or the Social Security Administration (SSA), that the new employee in question doesn't exist in the SSA database. There is a period of 90 days in which to contest the no-match rule but if you're not on top of things, your employer has to fire you.

    Right now there is a stay on that rule ordered by a district court in California, but it goes to show you some small error can have big consequences. See AFL-CIO v. Chertoff, No. 07-4472 (N.D. Cal filed Aug. 29, 2007. Apparently the DHS is looking into revising the rule.

    More here [aclu.org]

  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @11:37AM (#22615860)
    In cook county your name stays on the votes list even after you are dead.
  • Check digit (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sunderland56 (621843) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @12:31PM (#22616126)
    Wouldn't 99% of this problem - and many others - go away with a simple check digit on the SSN? Other countries (e.g. Canada) do it. Sure, it would be a bunch of work to issue everyone with a new 10-digit (or 12-digit) SSN, but the process would help to stem the current wave of identity theft. You could even sell the idea to republicans by pointing out that illegals here working with a forged SSN wouldn't get a new one.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mpe (36238)
      Wouldn't 99% of this problem - and many others - go away with a simple check digit on the SSN? Other countries (e.g. Canada) do it. Sure, it would be a bunch of work to issue everyone with a new 10-digit (or 12-digit) SSN, but the process would help to stem the current wave of identity theft.

      The check digit algorithm would hardly remain secret for long. The basis of the problem is misuse of the identifier, rather than its format. i.e. if all anyone could do with your SSN was contribute to your pension/pay
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jesus_666 (702802)
        It would stop clerical errors, though. If it wasn't possible to accidentally declare the wrong person dead without MUCH work (proportionally growing with the number of checksums - the German ID number uses no less than five checksums, for example) less people would end up complaining about losing their identity and for the rare cases that do happen, lots of red tape would make sense. It would be harder to obtain someone else's identity by complaining about the number.

        Also, reducing reliance on a central
  • by superwiz (655733) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @12:58PM (#22616282) Journal
    for tax purposes doesn't seem so farfetched all of a sudden.
  • by ari_j (90255) on Sunday March 02, 2008 @01:14PM (#22616370)
    [Data entry error], nothing! You take one nap in a ditch in the park and they start declaring you this and that!

Be careful when a loop exits to the same place from side and bottom.

Working...