Wed | Jan 16, 2019

Flawed benefits data say 6.5M in US have reached age 112

Published:Tuesday | March 17, 2015 | 12:00 AM
This file photo of former President Franklin Roosevelt signs the Social Security bill in Washington. Americans are getting older, but not this old.


Americans are getting older, but not this old: Social Security benefits records show that 6.5 million people in the US have reached the age of 112.

In reality, only few could possibly be alive. As of last fall, there were only 42 people known to be that old in the entire world.

But Social Security does not have death records for millions of these people, with the oldest born in 1869, according to a report by the agency's inspector general.

Only 13 of the people are still getting Social Security benefits, the report said. But for others, their Social Security numbers are still active, so a number could be used to report wages, open bank accounts, obtain credit cards or claim fraudulent tax refunds.

'a real problem'

"That is a real problem," said Senator Ron Johnson. He is chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which plans a hearing on problems with death records maintained by the Social Security Administration.

The agency said it is working to improve the accuracy of its death records. But it would be costly and time-consuming to update 6.5 million files that were generated decades ago, when the agency used paper records, said Sean Brune, a senior adviser.

The internal watchdog's report does not document any fraudulent or improper payments to people using these Social Security numbers. But it raises warnings that it could be happening.

For example, nearly 67,000 of the Social Security numbers were used to report more than $3 billion in wages, tips and self-employment income from 2006 to 2011, according to the report.

People in the country illegally often use fake or stolen Social Security numbers to get jobs and report wages, as do other people who do not want to be found by the government.

The Internal Revenue Service estimated it paid out $5.8 billion in fraudulent tax refunds in 2013 because of identity theft.

The Social Security Administration generates a list of dead people to help public agencies and private companies know when Social Security numbers are no longer valid for use. The list is widely used by employers, financial firms, credit-reporting agencies and security firms.