Social Security:

Observations on Improving Distribution of Death Information

GAO-02-233T: Published: Nov 8, 2001. Publicly Released: Nov 8, 2001.

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Thomas J. McCool
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Congress, law enforcement, and others have expressed concern about the misuse of Social Security numbers (SSNs). Death information collected by the Social Security Administration (SSA), including the SSN, generally reaches financial institutions and other entities within one to two months of a person's death. SSA and the National Technical Information Service could improve the timeliness of the distribution of the Death Master File. Improving the timeliness of death information to the financial services industry would help to narrow the window of time that a criminal has to open new accounts using a deceased individual's identity. Additional education for the financial services industry about the availability and contents of the Death Master File would also be helpful. Providing timely death information and making financial institutions more aware of a reliable source of such information could deter criminals from using deceased individuals' social security numbers to obtain false identities for fraudulent activities.

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