Last night's '60 Minutes' was mind-blowing for two reasons: 1) the Americans (still living) accidentally declared dead and placed on Social Security's 'Death Master File', thereby rendered unable to get credit or do banking. And (2) the number of fraudsters (near 6.5 million) collecting the Social Security payments of the beneficiaries (often parents) who've long since died. In this last case, the continued collections appear to show 6.5 million people "have reached the age of 112".
Of course, this is preposterous, as Patrick O'Carroll, the Social Security Inspector General pointed out to reporter Scott Pelley. What has really occurred is that the actual beneficiaries are deceased but relatives continue collecting their S.S. checks either out of ignorance of the law or true malice. In either case they end up as felons when finally caught - and they will (most) eventually be caught.
In regard to (1), the four citizens Pelley interviewed all described the shock of first learning their Social Security records turned them up as "deceased" on the Death Master File - which effectively left them dead financially. All credit closed, all bank accounts shut down, no ability to use any kind of account to pay for needed services, or goods. (One of the women had to live out of her car for more than 6 months and ultimately took 5 years to get her existence acknowledged.)
The Inspector General observed most of the problems are to do with the states who are responsible for reporting deaths to the feds. As O'Carroll put it "some states have very good data, and in other states it's done on a more haphazard level. So there will be some falling through the cracks."
But as gnarly as this is, the theft of Social Security monies by fraudsters is much worse, possibly bilking the system of billions each year - even while congress continues its raids. (See previous post). O'Carroll pointedly told Pelley that "live people falling through the cracks isn't what keeps him up at night". The much more costly problem is "the millions of Americans who do die but are not recorded."
Thus, Social Security has no death data for six and a half million people, and in terms of ages, that would make them all over 111 years of age. But as O'Carroll noted, in fact there are at most ten such oldsters in the country making all the rest liars and thieves. (If the death isn't recorded in the Death Master File the payments keep coming, but it is the responsibility of the offspring or caregivers to report it, not the Social Security Administration to do the notification and tracking down)
One of the sad cases highlighted in the piece was that of Sandra Kimbrough, a wife and mother and former caregiver to her mom until she died 30 years ago. She had taken in her aging, ill mother and had a joint back account with her. When her mother died, in 1984, the benefits from Social Security kept coming.
Pelley asked her if she reported the death to Social Security and Sandra replied:
"I did not. I thought perhaps it would have been taken care of by the funeral director at some point"
Compounding this bad assumption was the incorrect information conveyed by the mother herself before her death, telling the daughter she "would be entitled to her benefits after her death."
And so she went on that assumption and collected $160,000 over thirty years.
Of course, this is total nonsense. No offspring is "entitled" to collect the benefits of a deceased parent and she could have found this out with just a bit of energy and some Googling. Now, she is a felon facing at least a year in prison because of her bad assumptions and acting on bad information.
Others collecting S.S. monies under such false assumptions would do well to stop and do some serious research to get their brains in order. Lest they also receive a call from a Social Security agent.
How will they be found out? O'Carroll notes that audits are now being done to check whether a person (supposed dead but not reported) has been getting any access to Medicare over the past three years. If they haven't been the Social Security office will make contact, usually by phone and inquire as to the case. If the actual person can't be produced for interview or contact, those relatives collecting the checks will be in trouble.
The best course of action for anyone who has been collecting S.S. monies while an ill parent has been in their care, and who is now deceased? Get thee to a computer pronto, and send a letter - along with a copy of the death certificate- to the Social Security Administration. It is YOUR responsibility to inform them, not theirs to seek out the needed info from obituaries.
Do not, under any circumstances (or out of false beliefs or assumptions) continue to collect payments that you no longer have any right to! Better, inform yourself of current Social Security law so you know what your obligations are - as well as the real benefits - due YOU.