Family wants social security numbers kept out of death master file

Loni Blandford

Family wants social security numbers kept out of death master file

CREATED May. 3, 2012

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) - An 8-year-old Las Vegas girl is the victim of identity theft but sadly, she can't fight back. Her family wants to know how someone got ahold of her social security number and if other families could be at risk.

"I wanted her at peace and we shouldn't be going through this at all," said James Delgado.

James is trying to remember the good times he had with his daughter, Emily, before she got sick.

"She was a princess. She loved to dress up, she had her Hannah Montana wig," said James.

When Emily wasn't signing and dancing around the house, James knew something wasn't. It took doctors a few months to discover Emily had an inoperable brain tumor. James says doctors in Las Vegas gave her six weeks to live when she was diagnosed about four years ago. But those at St. Jude in Memphis, where Emily received treatment, were a little more optimistic.

"We can't give you a date on this because she's doing so well she keeps fighting she has courage and she wants to see this through," said James.

Emily did, until she lost that fight on March 2, 2011 at the age of 8.

The family stayed strong with support from the Childhood Cancer Foundation and their new family at St. Jude. But the high cost of medical bills made it difficult to put the final touches on Emily's resting place. So the family though they'd just wait until this year when they got their tax return.

"The money that we were going to get back was going to pay for her headstone this year to pay it off," explained James.

But when James went to a tax preparer to file, he was met with rejection.

"She said your daughter's social [has] been taken, it's already claimed on a taxes already," said James.

The tax preparer explained to James that someone had already claimed Emily as a dependent and that the family was now a victim of tax fraud. Imagine hearing that new when you're still trying to come to grips with the loss of a daughter.

"I think we've grieved enough and now we're going to grieve even more and longer," said James.

So how did someone get Emily's information? James may never know for sure, but he had his suspicions. After you die, your social security number is put into the Social Security Administration's Death Master File. While the Social Security Administration doesn't give the public access to it, other agencies do. The National Technical Information Service sells an annual subscription to it. It's a security risk some lawmakers say needs to be stopped.

"The commissioner of the Social Security told me that he cannot administratively stop putting up dead people's social security numbers immediately," said Florida Senator Bill Nelson.

Nelson testified on this very issue at a Senate Finance Committee in March. Nelson drafted a bill that would restrict access to the records of deceased people so that only people with a legitimate fraud prevention interest would have access to that information during a two year period following a death.

"The legislation secures the social security numbers of deceased Americans so that the fraudsters cannot use them to file tax returns," said Florida Senator Bill Nelson, testifying at a Senate Finance Committee meeting in March.

The bill still needs to go before the Senate, but lawmakers like Nelson say it's a necessary step in fighting identity theft. We contacted Senator Harry Reid's office. Senator Reid says he's pleased the Senate Finance Committee is looking into this issue. Reid went on to say, "We need to ensure that other families like Emily aren't forced to deal with this problem just as they are struggling with such a terrible loss."

"That should never be put on the internet," said James.

James is now in the process of running credit reports on Emily, checking to see if crooks used her information. He's in touch with other families at St. Jude, sharing Emily's story in hopes of protecting them.

Officials from St. Jude tell us they haven't heard about many of these cases with their clients. But James thinks Emily may have been the perfect target for a couple of reasons. His family was involved with so many organizations during her illness and because they posted a lengthy obituary online. The IRS couldn't comment on the status of the Delgado's tax return.

We want to thank James for sharing his story. If you have something you would like us to look into send an email to 13investigates@ktnv.com

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