Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Social Security Death Index Redactions

In recent months and FamilySearch have taken steps to make up for the failure of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to utilize the Social Security Death Index (SSDI) to prevent tax fraud. “Social Security Death Index” is a name created by the genealogical community. The government calls it the Public Death Master File (DMF).

Redactions removed the SSDI from and redacted (removed) social security numbers (SSNs)  for individuals who have died in the last ten years. FamilySearch redacted SSNs for those who have died in the last two years.

It is unfortunate that chose to remove the SSDI from RootsWeb. Not only was it free, but it was the best SSDI search experience on the web. While removing free access will be viewed as nefarious by some, the thinking was that thieves are less likely to pay for a subscription.

This is an example of an individual that died within the last ten years. The SSN is removed:

SSDI entry on for Gordon B. Hinckley, former president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

This example shows where and how the SSN is normally displayed:

SSDI entry on for Howard W Hunter, former president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

FamilySearch redacted the SSN for the past two years. While Ancestry hides the entire line for blank fields, shows the field but leaves the value blank:

SSDI entry on for Betty Ford, wife of the former president

Valuable Genealogical Records

The SSDI is important because the United States lacks nationwide registration of vital events: birth, marriage, and death. These are recorded at the local level by state, county, and city governments. Just as its name suggests, the SSDI serves as an index. While the SSDI contains second-hand information, it serves as an index leading to local jurisdictions where birth and death certificates might be obtained.

The SSDI is also an index to individuals’ applications for social security numbers, form SS-5. The SS-5 is rich in genealogical information. It contains birth names, birth information, parents’ birth names, and mailing address. According to the current fee table, it is $2 cheaper ($27 vs. $29) to obtain a deceased person’s SS-5 if you have the SSN.

Identity Theft

For many years the SSDI was unfairly accused of being a source of information for identity thieves. Quite the opposite, it has long been a mainstay in preventing identity theft. Attempted identity theft of a deceased individual is quickly detected by checking the SSDI (or DMF).

However, thieves recently found a way to utilize the SSDI to commit identity theft. Identity thieves discovered that the Internal Revenue Service doesn’t check the SSDI and started filing fraudulent tax refund claims using the SSNs of recently deceased individuals.


Four legislative proposals are currently under consideration to prevent this abuse from continuing. Three would delay release of SSNs of recently deceased individuals. One would totally eliminate the SSDI/DMF.

HR 3475:
SB 1534 :
HR 3482:
HR 3215:

The Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC) issued the following statement:

RPAC and its sponsoring organizations (FGS, NGS, IAJGS)  all submitted Statements for the Record supplementing the transcript of the March 20, 2012  hearing of the Subcommittee on Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Growth of the Senate Committee on Finance  entitled “Tax Fraud by Identity Theft, Part 2:  Status, Progress, and Potential Solutions” in response to a committee invitation to do so.

RPAC Statement for Record SFC

FGS Statement for Record SFC

NGS Statement for Record SFC

IAJGS Statement for Record SFC

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  1. Thanks for the information and examples. Helpful to see it spelled out like this. ~ Jen,

  2. I ordered the SS-5 for two people. One came back with the names of the parents whited out. I was lucky with the other one - the names were there.

    I don't understand why the names have to be removed.

  3. Is there a way to remove myrecently deceased parent's SSNs?

    1. Dear Unknown,

      If I can round up the time, I'll write an article on this subject.

      Why do you wish to have your parents' removed from the SSDI?

      ---The Ancestry Insider


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