The Social Security Administration (SSA) gave $3 million in benefits to deceased people in California whose Social Security numbers were used by identity thieves, according to a new audit by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
The agency continued to distribute payments to beneficiaries who died in the 1980s, according to the auditreleased Thursday.
“OI [Office of Investigations] and SSA confirmed that SSA issued approximately $3 million in improper payments to 14 beneficiaries who died in California during the 1980s,” the report said. “SSA terminated payments in each of these cases and quantified improper payments issue after the numberholders’ deaths.”
In one case, the widow of a disabled man received his benefits for 28 years following his death in 1985. The widow received $231,687 in payments until November 2013. The agency will not pursue criminal charges due to the widow’s “advanced age.”
The total amount of improper payments issued to dead people in California may be higher. An additional $598,350 in payments is being investigated for four individuals that the OIG believes to be deceased.
The SSA also mistakenly recorded three beneficiaries who are alive as deceased, and created death certificates for identity thieves that were using their SSNs.
“In these instances, it appeared that California had issued death certificates upon the deaths of identity thieves who used these SSNs to work in the 1970s and 1980s,” the audit said. “It appeared that all three beneficiaries improperly benefited from the identity thieves’ earnings, resulting in as much as $186,000 in overpayments.”
“It appeared that SSA erroneously incorporated the identity thieves’ work activity into all three beneficiaries’ payment computations,” the OIG added.
In another case the SSA issued $104,906 in retirement benefits to two Mexican nationals living outside the country, who had fraudulently used the SSN of a Californian who died in 1986.
The audit also found that thousands of workers in California are using SSNs that belong to likely deceased individuals, holding the potential for future fraud.