Social Security Sent More than $40 Million in Checks to Dead People, Inspector General Finds

By Karen Schuberg | September 16, 2009 | 10:14 PM EDT

( – The Social Security Administration (SSA) has issued benefit checks totaling $40.3 million to an estimated 6,100 beneficiaries for months – and in some cases for decades -- after receiving notification of their deaths, according to a June audit report from the agency’s Office of Inspector General. 

Approximately 1,760 of the 6,100 listed as deceased actually were dead, the government auditor estimated. The rest were alive, but had been wrongly listed as deceased. 

During a sample audit in 2008, the inspector general uncovered 228 cases where beneficiaries had been receiving payments from SSA when they were already listed as dead. Of those, 88 were verified to have died. Another 140 were found to still be alive. 

“SSA improperly paid these 88 deceased beneficiaries approximately $2.0 million,” the OIG report noted.

The remainder were alive, but had been reported as deceased in the federal agency’s Numident master file, a database of Social Security information tied to person’s Social Security number. 

In one case, Social Security sent a deceased beneficiary monthly checks of $1,185 for 18 years until October 2008, even though she died in April of 1990. SSA had listed the New York City death certificate number on the Numident records one month after her death, but her name was not removed from the Social Security payment roll and SSA continued to send her approximately $210,000 in 222 improper payments. 

“Our review of available information indicated that someone cashed these check payments,” the inspector general reported. “To date, SSA has not recovered any of the improper payments. The OIG has arrested a suspect and is awaiting judicial action on this case.”  

In another case, improper payments were made for 30 years after the death of a payee.

The sample audit led the OIG to conduct a wider audit – and to conclude that 1,760 of the estimated 6,100 beneficiaries still getting checks were actually deceased, the report stated. 

“Our audit results indicated that a large percentage of these beneficiaries were actually alive, and that death entries recorded on their Numidents were erroneous,” the report said. “However, our audit results also indicated that a number of these beneficiaries were deceased, and that dates of death recorded on their Numidents were accurate.”

The inspector general’s office said it is concerned that Social Security could make approximately $6.9 million in additional improper payments over the next 12 months if these discrepancies are not corrected.”
Section 205(r) of the Social Security Act requires that the Social Security match state death records against Social Security payment records to identify and prevent erroneous payments after death. In addition, SSA matches death records from other federal, state, and local agencies.