DMF Paradigm — Part 2 — What We Thought We Knew in 2011

The previous article in this series is found at:

Part 1 — http://www.fgs.org/rpac/2015/01/09/the-death-master-file-paradigm-introduction/

Readers are encouraged to review the earlier article, beginning with the Introductory Video by Stephen Covey.

When fraudulent tax returns filed by identity thieves using the social security numbers of recently deceased children broke into the headlines in 2011, data was simply not available for analysis that would help define how thieves were doing business nor the magnitude of the problem.  Only after both legitimate and questionable returns had been resolved by the Internal Revenue Service, a process frequently requiring more than a year to complete, would that information become available.

Early Congressional hearings highlighting these despicable acts reflected the limited knowledge available.  The hearing held by the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways & Means Committee on the 2nd of February 2012 is among the most notable.  It has prompted several postings in this RPAC Blog. The one at http://www.fgs.org/rpac/2012/02/12/ssdi-their-vision-of-our-future/  links to the official video of the proceedings that is also recommended for viewing by every genealogist using the Social Security Death Index.

Social Security Administration Commissioner Astrue initially appears as a one-person panel for the first thirty minutes of the hearing, the video for which is found at:  http://waysandmeans.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=133    In testimony beginning near minute 26, Commissioner Astrue suggests as a possible approach being considered by the Administration that genealogists perhaps could wait for up to 75 years to have access to the DMF file data.  He also suggests that genealogists can gain access to the data we need from alternative sources.  A snippet of this testimony is found at:  http://youtu.be/HuSVZvMmN5A .

Jonathan Agin’s initial testimony begins after Chairman Johnson introduces the public panel at approximately 34 minutes into the proceedings.  While answering questions at 1:00, Mr. Agin  speculates that his thief got his daughter’s SSN from the DMF/SSDI  and opines about who REALLY needs access to the DMF at 1:03.

His role also demonstrates the power of labels and creating the narrative surrounding how an issue is initially presented.  “Social Security Fraud” will find a sympathetic audience before a subcommittee whose jurisdictional limits provides oversight for the SSA.  Addressing “tax refund fraud by identity theft” would have required the involvement of a different congressional forum.  Thus the proposed remedy became the closing of the DMF without addressing the incredible vulnerability of the IRS online filing system.  Jurisdictional sensitivities also provide a somewhat more “innocent” explanation of why our offers to provide a genealogical witness for this hearing were so pointedly rebuffed.

Flowing from this hearing the following narrative emerges:

  1. The DMF/SSDI was a substantial source of the SSNs used in filing fraudulent tax returns.
  2. SSNs of deceased individuals need to be protected in the same ways we seek to safeguard those of the living.
  3. Simple fix available (Silver Bullet?):  Just limit access to the DMF/SSDI.
  4. Unstated assumption:  Nothing would be lost by closing this resource.

 

This narrative would become the paradigm driving Congressional attention and numerous legislative proposals to include the only one to  be enacted thus far, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.

 

Several additional posts addressing additional aspects of this topic are anticipated, including:

Part 3 – DMF Paradigm – Countermeasures Taken

Part 4 – DMF Paradigm –  Analysis Begins

Part 5 – DMF Paradigm – Lessons Learned As Stakeholders Speak

Part 6 – DMF Paradigm — Suggested Paradigm Shifts

Part 7 — DMF Paradigm — Access, Preservation or Replacement Issue?

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