Identity thieves used the Social Security numbers of hundreds of dead individuals to earn nearly $30 million, according to a federal watchdog.
The Social Security Administration's inspector general found over $200 million in questionable earnings over a five-year period that were earned using SSNs of people at least 85 years old or individuals who are deceased.
"Although SSA had controls in place to prevent and detect SSN misuse, we found individuals were using elderly individuals' identities for work purposes," the audit released Tuesday said. "Our review of a sample of 126 elderly individuals showed that 37 of their identities had been used to earn about $4.6 million during Tax Years (TY) 2009 to 2014."
The administration was only aware of eight instances where SSNs of elderly individuals were being used to earn wages. The inspector general uncovered more than 800 dead persons' SSNs that were stolen by others to attempt to work legally in the United States.
"In addition, we assessed wages reported after death using SSNs that had belonged to elderly individuals and found that 817 deceased elderly individuals' identities were being misused for work purposes," the inspector general said. "For [Tax Years] 2009 to 2014, someone other than the numberholders used their SSNs to earn about $29 million in wages."
Overall, SSNs belonging to 1,074 persons over the age of 85 were used for $145 million in earnings between 2009 and 2014. Roughly $57 million in earnings were recorded to 7,949 SSNs that belonged to dead individuals.
The inspector general found that more than 70 percent of wages earned with SSNs belonging to dead individuals came from the entertainment industry. Many of those earnings were for royalty payments for dead actors or producers that were filed on the wrong tax forms.
The inspector general identified 33 individuals over 100 years old who had $7.3 million in wages associated with them, and another 50 individuals between the ages of 85 and 100 who earned $5.2 million.
"The elderly are among the most vulnerable in our society and prime targets for identity thieves," the inspector general said. "Therefore, it is important to ensure that precautions are taken to properly safeguard their personally identifiable information and protect them against potential Social Security number misuse."