People mistakenly marked as dead face ID theft risk

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A Cobb County woman is among the thousands of people the federal government incorrectly listed as dead.
 
"My name is Sue Atkinson, and I'm very much alive," the grandmother told Channel 2 consumer investigator Jim Strickland.
 
Atkinson discovered something was wrong during a trip to the QT.
 
"I tried to put gas in my car, and discovered that I had no money in my account,"  Atkinson said.
 
Her bank statement revealed that two days after Social Security deposited her monthly check into her account, they took the money back.  That triggered several overdraft fees.  
 
A day later, her estate got a letter of condolence from American Express, gently asking how her balance would be managed.
 
Atkinson investigated and realized a Medicare claim after a recent surgery at a Cobb County hospital triggered a killer typo.
 
"Somebody checked the wrong box and decided I was dead, not discharged," said Atkinson.
 
She said when she went to the Social Security office in Marietta to straighten it out, they issued a form letter vowing that she is alive. She said they also acted like they have never heard of this happening before.
 
Strickland found a federal report that showed it happens all the time. More than 36,000 living people were listed as dead in a three-year period.
 
In response, Social Security Deputy Chief of Staff Dean Landis admitted 1,000 errors per month and called the number "relatively small."
 
A federal audit showed 80 percent of the mistakes are clerical errors at the Social Security Administration. The agency keeps the list of the not living called the Death Master File.
 
"Real people can be listed as dead, and that can have incredibly negative consequences," said John Breyault of the National Consumers League.
 
Breyault added that beyond Atkinson's case, living people listed as dead are vulnerable to fraud because their Social Security numbers, dates of birth and full names are listed.
 
"That's what we call the holy trinity of personal information that an ID thief needs to open an account in your name," Beyault said.
 
Strickland discovered even the dead can become victims.  
 
Five-year-old Alexis Agin died of cancer. Someone used her listing and filed a tax return in her name.  Agin's father, Jonathan, has testified before Congress demanding change.
 
"It amazed me that here was a policy that was not only costing the government upwards of $1.6 billion a year, but costing families that much more emotional pain when they find out their loved one's Social Security numbers have been stolen in such an easy manner," Agin said.
 
New rules implemented last month limit access to the death file. Without special clearance, a group, agency or person now has to wait three years to see a death listing.
 
Still, those new rules do not address the number of mistakes made in the first place.  Atkinson said she's hoping hers won't haunt her in the future.
 
"I have to assume, in the kindness of their hearts they've fixed this for me, that I can go on with my life,” Atkinson said.



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