There are some times in teenage life where you can distinctively remember pieces of your childhood falling away and the weight of adulthood being thrust upon your shoulders. For me, one of these moments came when my mom placed my social security card under my care. She dug through her important documents, pulled out my card, and handed it to me while saying
“you’re old enough to be in charge of this now, don’t lose it because without it your life will be very hard.”
That day I used it open my first bank account. Since then, it has only left its hiding place among my own important documents for major life events such as getting my driver’s license, applying to college, renting an apartment, filling out job paperwork, or ordering my US passport. We often don’t think about how important such a scraggly piece of paper with a sequence of nine numbers on it is… that is until something goes wrong.
The Government Creating Zombies?
For some people, things with their social security card do go very wrong, by no fault of their own. Every year, nearly 12,200 people living in the United States are falsely pronounced dead by the Social Security Administration (SSA). This small mistake can completely change the affected person’s life, making is nearly impossible to make financial transactions, apply for a new job, buy a home, or get prescription medication.
One can easily blame the bulkiness of the federal government and number of complicated hoops that must be jumped through to achieve anything, just look at the tax code for an example. However, the majority of these social security mistakes come as a result of ‘keystroke errors’ from personnel that accidentally enter one wrong digit. Once that happens, the affected person must jump through the many complicated hoops to convince the government that they are, in fact, still alive and well.
Life as a Zombie
Becoming a theoretical zombie can be extremely damaging to living a prosperous life. Although it takes nothing more than an erroneous typo to ‘die,’ coming back to life can be compared to walking through hell. Take Judy River’s story. She was declared dead in 2008 and took her case all the way to a Senate Committee on Homeland and Governmental Affairs meeting which was heard in March of 2015.
River’s said during the meeting,
“I could never have imagined I would reach the point of hopelessness, homelessness, loss of reputation and credibility, unable to obtain a job, an apartment, a student loan, or even a cell phone. Suspected as an identity thief by nearly every apartment manager or Human Resource Director I encountered became a way of life. Each time I got into my car I was panic stricken that the police would stop me and I would have to try and prove my identity.”
Harvesting Personal Information
Aside from a complete inability to prove your identity for any major financial move, becoming one of the living dead opens up your private accounts to nearly anyone interested in harvesting your personal information. Once a person is listed as dead, personal data (name, birth date, address, Social Security Number) is distributed to every major financial database in the country. If that wasn’t enough, the Master Death File is public domain so any interested party can get the information whenever they want.
Cybercrime has been growing at an astonishing rate in the US. In the first six months of 2014 alone, over 1.2 billion usernames and email addresses were exposed as a result of data security breaches. Having personal information stolen can result in long-term consequences including extensive debt and destruction of credit history, which can limit loan approvals profoundly. After death, it can take the SSA four to six weeks to discontinue a social security number, which gives identity thefts over a month to plunder personal accounts
Bringing Back the Dead
Once notified of a mistake, the SSA tries to reverse the situation as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, this process can still take upwards of three months. During that time, any government benefits accrued or money lost due to theft is unlikely to be reimbursed by the government.
With as many legitimate deaths that are processed by the government yearly, only having 12,200 mistakes equates to less than a 1 percent margin. Regardless, those that have suffered from these errors call their experiences “insufferable” and the rest of us are left wondering how in a world so technologically advanced as this there are not more sophisticated ways to catch ‘keystroke errors.’
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