Why Closing the SSDI is a Bad Idea

Recently, Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas) introduced the “Keeping IDs Safe Act of 2011” (aka KIDS Act). Rep. Johnson claims that thieves have been using the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) “to access Social Security numbers, file bogus tax returns to the Internal Revenue Service and collect refunds.”1 By closing the SSDI to the public, Johnson claims, thieves will no longer be able to steal the identity of deceased children and claim them as dependents on tax returns (as what happened to the Watters family of Illinois).1

However, the SSDI is an excellent tool for preventing identity theft. The SSDI can be used to verify that the Social Security number in question was assigned to someone who is now deceased. Some of the publicly-available SSDI websites offer the ability to search by Social Security number. A quick search for that number would show if it was assigned to a now-deceased person.

If more agencies and employers used the SSDI, they would instantly spot that a number being passed off by a living person is actually invalid — thus preventing the identity theft.

It is true that there are instances of living people appearing in the SSDI. (According to Johnson, there are approximately 14,000 such people.1 The entire SSDI contains more than 90.8 million records.2)

It is certainly understandable to want to protect against identity theft. However, shutting off a valuable tool such as the SSDI is not the way to do it.


  1. Wolf, Isaac. “Senators try to block ID theft of the deceased.” Chicago Sun-Times, 25 November 2011. (Accessed 25 November 2011).
  2. RootsWeb’s Social Security Death Index search page (accessed 25 November 2011).
Posted: November 25, 2011.

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  • Amy, I totally agree on this! I create the new employee files for my employer, and I always check the SSDI to make sure we aren’t hiring someone whom we shouldn’t employ. This is a first step! I’m sure the FGS committee will be reviewing this (they must have seen it by now)!

  • It’s the same mentality that blocks death certificates, birth certificates, marriage certificates, etc. from the public. Sounds good in the campaign, does little in reality.

  • Couldn’t agree more with Debby but just finished a 2-day seminar for tax professionals and heard the IRS’ horror stories of all the bogus tax returns being filed to get returns by using SSN’s from dead people. I think the real problem is that the IRS can’t handle the load anymore. They don’t have enough people, the ones they do have aren’t always competent, their equipment is outdated, and they have been running behind for years. Rather than admit all that, they point at the SSDI as the cause for them paying the fraudulent refunds. It’s nothing more than another government scare tactic.

  • My mothers estate was a victim of of ID theft thanks to the ss death index..this is confirmed. Been going through 8 months of hell with the IRS to get the refund, it is real and it does happen and unless you go through it yourself you wouldn’t understand.

    • Jer — thank you for your comment. I agree that identity theft is real. My parents went through it several years ago. (The thief did it the old-fashioned way by stealing blank checks.) And you’re right, it is absolute hell to deal with. However, if the IRS was doing its job, it would have caught that the SSN in question was no longer valid. That’s what the SSDI was designed to do: help the government and other entities determine whether or not a Social Security Number belongs to a deceased person. If the IRS would do its job — and if state and local governments, along with banks, insurance agencies, etc. would use it more often — we would see fewer instances like what happened to your mother’s estate.

    • The notion that your mothers estate was the victim of ID theft because of the social security database that you say is confirmed is complete nonsense. I hate it when people start spreading false theories based on things they no nothing about. You think it is the death index but it is NOT.

  • Why not force every American household to have a paper shredder in their household to shred incoming junk mail instead of letting credit card solicitors letters get tossed into the mail. A good source of identity theft.
    I totally disagree with Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas. It is like throwing out the baby with the bath water. If this SSDI was gone from public viewing what tool would the business world have to cross check for a person being a living or dead person?
    Sam Johnson…bad idea!