Foresight Blog

Social Security Numbers Never Die

Social Security Numbers Never Die

Or at least they sometimes outlive the intended owner. It is a lot like grave robbing — when someone dies, someone in the deceased person’s life decides to open credit accounts or other financial instruments using the deceased person’s name and identity.

Why? The reasons are many – the excuses are few. Maybe the living relative (or thief) wants to run up a cell phone bill. Or perhaps a bank loan would go through faster with a different name and Social Security Number on the loan application. Perhaps a son (with bad credit) has the same name as his father (how convenient). Whatever the reason, millions of deceased persons’ identities go on living even after they have passed away.

According to ID Analytics nearly 800,000 deceased Americans’ identities are intentionally targeted for misuse on applications for credit products and cell phone services by fraudsters each year. And in approximately 1.6 million applications annually, an identity manipulator inadvertently used the SSN of a deceased person.

For me, my brother passed away in 1990. And because I work in the data industry, I look up his information occasionally to verify certain facts: like deceased records, last known address, date of birth, etc. But recently, I noticed when doing a social security number trace, his address was changing – constantly. And, interestingly enough, his ex-wife (whom I didn’t care for) seemed to be living at all the addresses his new identity was living at. Coincidence? Maybe.

Protection: the best protection is to monitor the credit of the living and deceased to make sure nothing funky is going on. The Social Security Administration has many good suggestions on how to do this regularly. I happen to use Bank of America’s Privacy Assist to monitor my own.