Congress has finally taken action to stem the tide of tax-related identity theft by limiting access to the Death Master File. From Bloomberg.com:

A provision in the budget measure passed 64-36 by the U.S. Senate (December 18) would limit access to information in the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File to certified entities, such as life insurers and pension funds that use the data to combat fraud and administer benefits. The limits would apply for three years after an individual’s death.

The file contains the names, Social Security Numbers and dates of birth of anyone who has died. As you can imagine, it’s a treasure trove for identity thieves. It’s almost certainly how Brian Boka’s identity got stolen. Someone filed a fraudulent tax return in Brian’s name after he died, leaving his widow and me to battle with the IRS for more than 2 years before the issue was finally resolved.

The legislation requires the Commerce Department to set up a process to verify legitimate users of the file while otherwise exempting the file from the Freedom of Information Act for three years after a person dies.

All I can say is — thank you Congress (how often do we say that anymore?), and it’s about time.

(Hat tip to Joe Kristan at The Tax Update Blog for first alerting me to this story.)

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