Note: This article contains personal opinions.
Sometimes I think news reporters don't stop to think. A perfect example is shown in an article by Alessandra Da Pra in the Seminole Heights (Florida) Patch. The article describes a case of tax fraud in which the thieves reportedly found Social Security Numbers on Ancestry.com and other web sites and used those numbers to file tax returns for the deceased individuals, claiming refunds. The refunds were to be sent to "new" mailing addresses for the deceased taxpayers, typically vacant homes or innocent bystanders’ homes, where the crooks intercepted the mail. Refunds were also sent via direct deposit into fraudulent bank accounts.
The article at http://goo.gl/BB6JG insinuates that the publication of Social Security Numbers is the underlying cause of the identity theft. I have a one word response to this article:
[Expletive deleted by editor]!
OK, so this is a family newsletter. Maybe I won't use that word. However, the article overlooks one critical fact: the publication of Social Security Numbers in the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) on Ancestry.com and perhaps on a dozen other web sites is a major tool to PREVENT identity theft, not a cause of identity theft.
Think about this for a moment: Who uses the information from the Social Security Death Index? And, even more important, who uses the Social Security Numbers found there?
Sure, genealogists use the information, but we are a minor player in all this. The newspaper article claims that thieves and rip-off artists use the Social Security Numbers, and I have no doubt that is also true to some degree. But who are the PRIMARY users of this information?
Banks, credit card companies, credit reporting agencies, insurance companies, welfare agencies, and most everyone else in the financial industries use this information as well. They use it to quickly IDENTIFY Social Security Numbers that are no longer active. Every financial institution that cares about security subscribes to the monthly SSDI updates and immediately adds all the included Social Security Numbers to their organization's databases. In effect, the databases now say:
"If anyone applies for money using a Social Security Number of a deceased individual, immediately block the application and send it to a manual review."
In fact, the Social Security Death Index is one of the major tools for PREVENTING identity theft, not the other way around.
So, how did the thieves in this case get away with fraud? I don't know, but I can imagine any of a number of scenarios. Most of the scenarios involve human error and human incompetence, things that are quite common.
I suspect that not every tax authority subscribes to the Social Security Death Index. Only the competent ones that care about security will subscribe. The incompetent ones will not. The same is true for other financial institutions as well. If so, that is the fault of the financial institutions. The information is available to them at low cost or sometimes no cost. If they don't care enough to use this critically important information, perhaps they deserve to be defrauded.
I'd bet money that all organizations with better security methods subscribe to the Social Security Death Index, and they also update their databases within hours after receipt of every month's release of new information.
Genealogists and others also have a need for the information found within the Social Security Death Index. We may lose that access if many more articles are published that claim "the sky is falling, the sky is falling."
All this reminds me of an old saying concerning throwing a baby out with the bath water.
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