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Dead Man Walking

Senior Director of Strategic Alliances
LexisNexis Risk Solutions - Government

Shane Melton’s day seemed to be going smoothly when he went to his local Department of Motor Vehicles to renew his license. Until he found out that according to DMV records, the Social Security Administration had declared Melton dead. And instead of getting a license, Melton was accused of impersonating a dead man and stealing an identity. His own identity. That was only the beginning for Melton, who then had his formal ID confiscated by the DMV. He eventually got fired from his job and has since struggled to get a new job. Just as well since it is a full-time job trying to reverse a government issued dead decree.

The Social Security Administration mistakenly declares thousands of U.S. citizens dead every year. A high enough rate that there’s even a “frequently asked question” about it on the Social Security Administration’s website. The Social Security Administration has said that it tries to fix these errors quickly. “Quickly” for the SSA is several months based on Melton’s experience.

Walking like a dead man in the halls of the SSA, Melton has learned that because he had supposedly died, all his personal information had been released to the public in a document called the Death Master File. This “file” is created from the internal SSA records of deceased persons possessing SSA’s and whose death was reported to (and by!) the SSA. It was made initially to stop erroneous benefit payments. But thanks to the Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in 1980, this information is now released to the public for non-benefit agencies like banks. So, in the interim period between when a SS# is listed in the file and the records are wiped out of existence, and identity thief can use that information to file fraudulent tax returns and collect government money. That means the person declared by the SSA is now at a high risk of their identity being stolen. Even though they themselves can’t use it.

Kudos to Melton for the battle of his life. Putting aside the headache of having to convince everyone you’re still alive just so you can withdraw cash from an ATM, or pick up your prescriptions, might a fake death be seen as an opportunity?

Today’s Fraud Of The Day is based on article “Man struggles to revive identity after Social Security Administration declares him dead” published by KKTV 11 News on Mar. 28, 2023

A man from South Carolina received a big surprise during what should have been a routine visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Shane Melton learned the Social Security Administration incorrectly declared him deceased when he went to renew his driver’s license.

Melton said he was shuffled into a back room after being accused of impersonating a dead man and stealing his identity.

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