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Potential Social Security fraud: Watchdog finds suspiciously old enrollees

This file photo taken in September 2013 shows Sakari Momoi (L), a resident of Saitama, writing a message to communicate with Saitama Mayor Hayato Shimizu (R back), in Tokyo. Momoi, Japan's oldest man, became the world's oldest at age 111 after Alexander Imich, also 111, died in New York on June 8, 2014.

Kyodo via AP Images

The world's oldest living man celebrated his 112th birthday last month, but if you checked the Social Security Administration's records, reaching that age wouldn't seem like a very big deal.

According to a watchdog report recently released, there are approximately 6.5 million Social Security number holders age 112 or older (as of f June 15, 2013) who are not listed as deceased. Thousands of the Social Security numbers in question could have been used to commit identity fraud, the inspector general for the Social Security Administration (SSA) concluded.

Not surprisingly, the inspector general also concluded that the SSA did not have controls in place to annotate death information for Social Security number holders who have exceeded reasonable life expectancies. Nearly all of those 6.5 million number holders had no earnings nor payments received from the SSA on their records, suggesting they are simply deceased.

However, the inspector general identified thousands of cases of potential misuse. For instance, from 2008 through 2011, the SSA received more than 4,000 E-Verify inquiries about number holders born before June 16, 1901. When the inspector general initiated its review, SSA was issuing payments to 266 of those number holders. However, in only 13 cases was it likely the beneficiary was actually age 112 or older.

The inspector general opened its investigation after obtaining information that a man opened bank accounts using several different Social Security numbers, including two belonging to number holders born in 1869 and 1893, respectively. Neither of those Social Security numbers appeared in the agency's Death Master File (DMF).

While the SSA is responsible for updating the DMF, other government and private entities rely on it to prevent fraud.

"SSA generally dismisses these discrepancies by stating that the numberholders do not receive payments," the inspector general wrote. "However, the 6.5 million records represent a significant void in the DMF... Even though these identities are not being used to receive Social Security benefits, they can be used for other improper activities, such as filing for benefits from other Federal agencies or States, opening bank accounts, or applying for jobs."