Part 3 – DMF Paradigm – Countermeasures Taken

The previous articles in this series are found at:

Part 1 —

Part 2 —

Changes on Genealogical Websites

As the tax filing season opened in early 2011, the SSDI was freely accessible by the general public from a number of web sites, to include most of the major sites serving the genealogical community without requiring a subscription or login.  Several Senators, including members of the Senate Finance Committee, voiced their concerns in a December 1, 2011 letter addressed to the CEO of Inc.12-1-11 – Tim Sullivan and asked that they and other genealogical sites remove SSNs from their posting of the SSDI. and other genealogical web sites immediately took measures designed to prevent the abuse of their resources by thieves.  In addition to putting this data behind their subscription pay wall, Ancestry chose to conceal the SSN of the deceased for a period of time, even for their subscribers.  Other genealogical sites took similar measures.


And the IRS Improves Their Use of Filters

Although we do not expect the Internal Revenue Service to describe in detail the use and coverage of their filters, it was clear that in CY 2011, their very limited review of TY 2010 returns claiming a refund did not use the DMF to flag returns for further scrutiny.

For Tax Year 2012, the information provided by the witnesses at the April 16, 2013 Senate Finance Committee hearing entitled “Tax Fraud and Tax ID Theft:  Moving Forward with Solutions” gave multiple reasons to be encouraged by the actions being taken to combat refund fraud and help victims of identity theft.  Their written statements are available at:  The testimony of Steven T. Miller, Acting Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service described a number of significant steps they have taken including (1)  much improved screening filters “to spot false returns before we process them and issue refunds”, (2)  expanded criminal investigations, and (3)  prosecution of the perpetrators.

Appropriate prosecution and sentencing of those perpetrating tax fraud related to identity theft has the potential of not only thwarting their predations but should serve as a deterrent to others tempted to follow their example.  This begins to look like progress.


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

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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RPAC at FGS/RootsTech 2015

Access to Vital Records is Under Attack! How Can You Help?

Thursday, 12 February 2015, Session T221, 4:30 p.m., Room 255A

Vital records are being threatened at both the state and federal level. Learn about the 2011 Revision of the Model State Vital Statistics Act, which if passed in your state will close access to birth records for 125 years and death records for 75 years.

Also learn about how the 2013 Bipartisan Budget Act signed at the end of 2013 has limited access to the Social Security Death Index for three years after someone’s death. Although the Interim Rule allowed forensic genealogists to become certified for access to the Limited Death Master File during the embargo period, the proposed final rule increases the costs and security requirements making access prohibitive for a small business which includes forensic and professional genealogists.

Attend session T 221 and learn how the genealogical community has responded to these attacks and how you can help.

RPAC has initiated a “Genealogists’ Declaration of Rights” advocating open access to federal, state, and local public records. More than 5,000 genealogists have signed online at or at conferences and other gatherings of genealogists. Stop by the RPAC Booth #1115 and sign the Declaration in the Exhibit Hall.  For more detail see our previous blog post at:

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ALERT — Proposed Major Cuts to the Indiana State Library Budget

Indiana State Library

With a more than $2 billion state budget surplus, the  2015 state budget proposed by the administration provides for  a 25% cut to the Indiana State Library’s funding.  This proposal specifically targets cuts against state-wide access to informational and educational databases and would eliminate the Genealogy Department.  It would reduce the Library staff by 10%.

The Indiana Genealogical Society seeks our help in a blog post found at: .

RPAC will monitor these developments and perhaps suggest additional measures in coordination with the efforts of the Indiana Genealogical Society.  In the meantime, we encourage that all concerned about these issues give consideration to signing the Genealogists’ Declaration of Rights at

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

The previous article in this series is found at:

Part 1 —

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  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:    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: .

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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The Death Master File Paradigm — Introduction

Part of the lasting legacy left by the late Dr. Stephen Covey may be memorialized in his nine minute discussion of the concept of paradigms and paradigm shifts found in the video at: .

Our understanding of how the provisions of Section 203 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 came about  limiting access to the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (also known as the Social Security Death Index) DMF/SSDI  may be enhanced by using Dr. Covey’s explanation of a paradigm as a frame of reference.  A nearby posting gives notice of the current opportunity for the public to comment upon a proposed final rule implementing this statute before the 29th of January.

In coming days I intend to post a series of articles to the RPAC Blog acknowledging the need for a paradigm shift in addressing the issues surrounding the issues of tax fraud by identity theft and possible abuses of the SSA’s Death Master File.

Interested readers will be well advised to invest the nine minutes required to review this video.  My thesis is that we may have tried to navigate the streets of Portland using a mislabeled map of Seattle (an observation that may make more sense after viewing Dr. Covey’s instruction.)

Please check back.

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Death Master File — Request for Comments on Proposed Final Rule — Additional Update — New Deadline 30 March 2015

Last week we were advised of the following notice:

“NEW:  NTIS to Publish Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to Establish a Certification Program for Access to Death Master File – Requests Comments


The National Technical Information Service (NTIS) is publishing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Notice) describing a rule that would, if implemented, establish, pursuant to Section 203 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (Pub. L. 113-67), a certification program to replace the temporary certification program currently in place for access to the DMF.  The Notice will be published in the Federal Register Wednesday, December 24, 2014.  The Notice invites public comments on the proposed rule and certification program, and sets a 30 day comment period.  The Notice may be reviewed at  If there are any inconsistencies between this document and the version published in the Federal Register, the version published in the Federal Register governs. 


Please note that the temporary certification program, established by NTIS under the Interim Final Rule (79 Fed. Reg. 16668, March 26, 2014), remains in effect.”


Although the notice anticipated that the official notice triggering the 30 day comment period would appear in the Federal Register on the 24th of December, we understand it is now scheduled to appear on Tuesday the 30th of December.

RPAC and its sponsoring organizations are planning to file comments to the proposed final rule.  Our comments will be posted to this RPAC Blog when submitted.  Other entities and individuals desiring to submit their own comments are encouraged to do so.  We would welcome an opportunity to include other such comments in the RPAC Blog with our own.  Please provide a copy of your document to us at .

UPDATED 30 Dec 2014:  The official Federal Register publication is found at: 

UPDATED 7 Jan 2015:

Comments submitted in response to the Request for Comments on the DMF Subscriber Certification Form that were received before the deadline of 5 pm, October 21, 2014, have been posted at  This included the latest RPAC submission to this process suggesting that the new Limited Use Death Master File can no longer  serve  many of the  legitimate purposes for which it has historically been used.

Updated 23 Jan 2015

The National Technical Information Service (NTIS) submitted a notice to the “Federal Register” for publication to extend the period for public comment from January 29, 2015, to March 30, 2015 on the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking; Request for Comments, “Certification Program for Access to the Death Master File”.  This is the notice that requested comments on the Proposed Final Rule published on December 30, 2014.  We will provide a link to the “federal Register” notices when it publishes. 

The link for submitting comments and reviewing those previously submitted by others can be found at:!docketBrowser;rpp=25;po=0;D=DOC-2014-0001







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Genealogists’ Declaration of Rights — We Need Your Support!

With thanks to RPAC Chair, Jan Alpert.

The Genealogists’ Declaration of Rights is a statement advocating open access to federal, state, and local public records. The Declaration affirms America’s long history of open public records, which has been threatened the last few years over concerns about identity theft and privacy. The Declaration of Rights has been approved by the board of directors of the three sponsoring organizations of the Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC): The National Genealogical Society (NGS), the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS).

RPAC has worked with state and federal legislators as well as local public officials for more than twenty years in support of legislation and regulations that achieve a balance between access and privacy. The Declaration of Rights is a document RPAC plans to use in response to both state and federal legislation that would restrict access to public records. The Declaration will be presented to the appropriate legislative committee chairs or Executive Branch of government together with a specific statement about RPAC’s position on a proposed law or regulation.

In 2014 RPAC representatives had a booth at the major national conferences including NGS in May, IAJGS in July, and FGS in August where conference attendees could sign the Genealogists’ Declaration of Rights. RPAC also had the Declaration available for signatures at the Southern California Genealogical Jamboree in June. Approximately 1,000 signatures were obtained at these conferences. The Declaration is also available for online signature at As of 4 November 2014, over 4,000 signatures have been obtained. We need 10,000 signatures by the end of 2014 before the next state and federal legislative sessions begin! We Need YOU to sign the Genealogists’ Declaration of Rights!

Genealogical Societies are encouraged to include articles about the Declaration in its Blog or newsletter, obtain signatures at the monthly meetings, and obtain signatures at local, state and regional conferences. We encourage you to obtain original signatures of your members or conference participants including the date signed, signature, printed name, and city and state of residence.

Date    Signature       Printed First Name    Printed Surname        City          State


People may ask if they can sign for states in which their ancestors lived. The answer is NO because we are simultaneously promoting that “Genealogists Vote,” so we want the signatures based upon the state in which the signer resides and votes.

Because we compile signatures by state, a separate page needs to be set up for each state. Please scan each page of signatures and send a copy to Jan Alpert, the RPAC chair, since Jan is responsible for compiling signatures for the respective states. Be sure to include the name of the genealogical society or organization at the top of each signature page. State societies may want to keep the original signatures for use on legislative issues in your state. Upon receipt of scanned signature pages from a society, RPAC will send a “We Signed” sticker for the society website or blog.

A copy of the Genealogists’ Declaration of Rights and signature form can be found hereDeclaration of Rights with bold and hereDeclaration Signature Page on the RPAC Blog.  Check this Blog regularly for updates on legislation which may impact genealogists’ access to public records.

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ID Wise from the Center for Identity

Like every other citizen, modern genealogists also live their lives on an internet populated by identity thieves.

The Center for Identity at The University of Texas at Austin (UTCID) has launched IDWise, a state funded online resource and one-stop-shop for consumer-friendly tips, articles, games and videos on how to manage and secure personal information for individuals, businesses and families. 

I was privileged to participate in a well-attended event at the Alumni Center at The University of Texas at Austin campus on October 7, 2014.

The Press Release announcing the public launch of ID Wise and the background of the Keynote Speakers is found here: Launch IDWise

The event was prominently featured that day on the Austin NBC affiliate KXAN:

The Center’s multi-disciplinary research program brings together diverse expertise vital to identity management, security and privacy advances:  Law, Technology, Public Policy, Social Sciences, Business and Communications.  An overview of the Research Program is found here:  Center for Identity Research

The educational materials developed by the Center were most on display and featured an ID Protection Toolkit found here.  Their ID Recovery Toolkit is found here.  Another popular attraction at the event was an educational video game called “Beat the Thief.

Among the most provocative observations shared with the audience were those found in the remarks of Congressman John Carter (R-31st TX) in which he described the international nature of the threat of identity theft and how several young Russian billionaires had acquired their wealth.  Judge Carter cemented his place as one recognizing early on the serious threat posed by identity thieves with his success in proposing legislation designed to fit the punishment to the damage done by the crime.  Although not specifically cited, I believed he was referring to H.R. 1731 (The Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act) which became Public Law No: 108-275 on 07/15/2004.

My expectation is that we can all be beneficiaries of the research and educational efforts of the Center for Identity designed to make the internet a safer place. My hope is that we will explore ways in which the genealogical community might collaborate with them in that effort.

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Combating IRS Refund Fraud: The Next Profile in Courage?

The continuing vulnerability for the IRS online filing system to refund fraud by identity theft has been much in the news in recent days.

It was the focus of the CBS 60 Minutes broadcast Sunday evening, the 21st of September which featured interviews ranging from the fourth IRS commissioner in the last two years, film clips from the Congressional testimonies of his predecessors, and “expert” testimony from a former identity thief.

The broadcast also anticipated the public release on Monday, the 22nd of September of a Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) Report responding to a request from key members of Congress entitled:  “Identity Theft –  Additional Actions Could Help IRS Combat the Large, Evolving Threat of Refund Fraud.”

What GAO Found

Based on preliminary analysis, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) estimates it paid $5.2 billion in fraudulent identity theft (IDT) refunds in filing season 2013, while preventing $24.2 billion (based on what it could detect). The full extent is unknown because of the challenges inherent in detecting IDT refund fraud.

“IDT refund fraud takes advantage of IRS’s “look-back” compliance model. Under this model, rather than holding refunds until completing all compliance checks, IRS issues refunds after conducting selected reviews. While there are no simple solutions, one option is earlier matching of employer-reported wage information to taxpayers’ returns before issuing refunds.”

Three years after this issue burst into the headlines in 2011, newly available data is finally prompting decision-makers to begin asking the right questions and focus on possible solutions that reflect reality.

Contrary to the original impressions flowing from reports of the identities of recently deceased children (possibly obtained by using the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File) being used to file fraudulent tax refund claims, subsequent analysis confirms that such cases never represented more than a miniscule part of the vulnerability to tax refund fraud. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report issued in September 2013  analyzing TY 2011 data set the percentage at less than 2% of the total dollars fraudulent paid, and an even smaller percentage of the total number of cases.  (Note Figure 4 in the report.)

It is my hope that TIGTA plans to follow up on the above review of our TY 2011 experience by developing comparable numbers for TY 2012 and TY 2013 so that we can assess the effectiveness of the measures already taken to intercept fraudulent returns.

I will soon supplement this report with additional commentary on RPAC responses to this issue.  Please check back in the next day or so..

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RPAC at FGS San Antonio — Updated

With thanks to Jan Alpert, RPAC Chair

The Times They Are A-Changing, T219, 1:15 p.m.

The Records Preservation and Access Committee presents “The Times They Are A-Changing” on Thursday afternoon beginning at 1:15 p.m. in Room 207B.  Panelists Jan Alpert, RPAC Chair, Fred Moss, Counsel for FGS, and Jan Meisels Allen, Chair, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee will present an update on the several important state, federal, and international record access issues including the following:

  • Learn how the 2013 Bipartisan Budget Act closed access to the Social Security Death Index for three years after each individual’s death unless certified by the Department of Commerce, and how RPAC is responding to the closure;
  • The 2011 Revision of the Model Vital Statistics Act has been introduced in several states, which if passed, embargos access to birth records for 125 years, marriage and divorce records for 100 years, and death records for 75 years.  What can you do in your state to preserve your access to Vital Records?
  • The European Union has new Data Privacy Regulations under consideration which include the “right to be forgotten.”
  • The genealogical community (sponsored by FGS, NGS, and IAJGS) has initiated a Genealogists’ Declaration of Rights. More than 3,500 have already signed the Declaration at the major conferences this year or online. Stop by the RPAC booth #604, sign the Declaration, and receive an “I signed the Declaration” sticker. Genealogists care about access to records and we vote.

The slides are now posted as the last item on the RPAC Blog Publications page at .

UPDATED 21 September 2014

With thanks to Teri E. Flack, the Texas RPAC State Liaison (and 2014 FGS Conference Co-Chair) we can also share her related presentation on “Effective Advocacy”:               effective advocacy-FGS 2014-final (2)

Audio recordings of both presentations are available at

23765 = Effective Advocacy

23781 = RPAC Session – The Times They are A-Changin’

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