Social Security Mistakenly Declares Thousands Dead Each Year


Could you be dead and not even know it? Bounced payments and missing government checks could be one sign that your Social Security number has been put to pasture even if you're still among the living.

About 14,000 people each year are wrongly declared deceased due to data-entry errors at the Social Security Administration, according to a CNNMoney story Wednesday. The government agency shared approximately 2.8 million death records with the Public Death Master File in 2010, but one in 200 records were incorrectly entered. Those fatal errors lead to life-altering stress for thousands of Americans.

Not Dead Yet

Ask Laura Brooks, 52, of Spotsylvania, Va., who -- CNN reports -- found out she was "dead" after her banks accounts were frozen and she stopped receiving her disability checks for a depressive disorder. It took her two months to unwind the bureaucratic mistake, caused by a funeral director mistyping a Social Security number. That typo caused her to lose her only source of income, her disability payments, and accumulate hundreds of dollars in fees for bounced checks.

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She's only one of many victims of these mistakes. From May 2007 to April 2010, more than 36,000 people were listed as six feet under when they were still upright, CNN reports.

Being listed as dead has big implications for the undead. Faulty ID information, including Social Security numbers, names, addresses and birth dates, are made public through the Death Master File, putting thousands at risk of identity fraud. The information also is sold to banks and credit bureaus, which means the falsely reported dead often lose their ability to get credit or receive benefits.

"It is unfortunate, but some of the death data that we post to our records ... proves to be wrong and we correct it as soon as possible," Mark Hinkle, a spokesperson for Social Security Administration told CNN. "Usually the error was inadvertently caused because of a human typing error when death information was entered into a computer system."