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Social Security Keystroke Mistake Declares Thousands Dead Each Year

BOSTON (CBS) - A person might feel very much alive, but the federal government may disagree. Talk about a dilemma. It's estimated the Social Security Administration mistakenly declares about 14,000 people dead each year.

Vaso Pavlovic recently got a condolence letter from the Social Security Administration on the death of his mother in law. The problem was that his mother in law wasn't dead; it was his father in law who had recently passed away. Pavlovic's mother in law needed her monthly benefits to cover her living expenses and the checks were cut off.

Professor Steven Weisman of Bentley University is an expert on identity theft and similar cybercrimes. He says it is truly a mess when the Social Security declares the wrong person dead.

"They type in a digit wrong on a Social Security Number, and that is when it starts," explained Weisman. They are referred to as keystroke errors and the wrong information gets put into data banks. "Where it is so easy, just a slip of your little finger to kill someone, it's very difficult to bring someone back to life, and it can be very very frustrating, "said Weisman.

Pavlovic had to go through a very complex and lengthy process to correct the situation involving his mother in law. He had to get a picture of her holding a newspaper with the current date visible. He had to obtain a statement from her nursing home indicating she was a tenant there. He then had to provide a death certificate for the father in law, and get a picture of his obituary for them.

Untangling this maze is particularly challenging for seniors. "You are going to be without those funds and that creates a real hardship, and again, there is not a standard procedure for proving that one is alive," said Weisman.

This isn't something that only effects seniors, however. It could impact someone who is in the market for a car, for example.

"Perhaps you are going for a car loan and when they go to access your credit report, see that you are dead, or to get a mortgage, and you're dead. To get a job and they check your credit report and you've given us a phony social security number, you're dead," explained Weisman.

The Social Security Administration says correcting a botched case is complicated for a reason. In a statement, a spokesperson added, "Social Security requires proof of identification to protect people against potential fraud and ID theft."

Still, Weisman would like to see the whole process streamlined and regulated better.

Although this happens to about 14,000 people a year, that's out of about 2.8 million death cases Social Security handles annually.

The case with the Pavlovic family has now been cleared up.


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