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Dead People’s Social Security Numbers For Sale On Government Web Site

By Joe Shortsleeve, WBZ-TV Chief Correspondent
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WBZ-TV's Joe Shortsleeve Joe Shortsleeve
Joe Shortsleeve is chief correspondent for WBZ-TV News weekdays a...
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BOSTON (CBS) – When you think of identity theft, chances are you don’t think your government is part of the problem.

But it is and thieves know it and exploit it.

This week a Massachusetts congressman will file legislation that will help stop the government from giving away personal information.

“We will close that loop hole. We will absolutely make it unavailable to the general public,” Congressman Mike Capuano told WBZ-TV.

He is talking about dead people’s Social Security numbers.

Right now, believe it or not, they are for sale for as little as $10 on a U.S. government web site. It is known as the Death Master File or DMF.  The original idea was this site would help cut down on identity theft.

The Department of Commerce web site claims to have 89 million death records. For a small fee, anyone can get Social Security numbers and a date of birth.  Today, this site may be connected to several hundred thousand cases of fraud.

The Social Security Administration tells WBZ federal laws require that this information be made available.

“It is tragic that unscrupulous individuals use the public DMF to commit tax fraud, but our hands are tied,” Social Security Adminstration Roberto Medina said in a statement.

Len Sherman of Newton was a victim of identity theft last summer. Thieves spent thousands of dollars at high end stores using his credit card information. He told us it’s hard to believe our own government is selling such personal information.

“I am appalled. It is a crime against a person, as opposed to an institution, and it very upsetting, very upsetting to a lot of people.”

Capuano’s legislation would restrict both access and the information given out on the site. He hopes to file it in a few days.

“It is the leading place where for anyone who is interested in identity fraud goes first. It is absolutely insane,” he said.

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