[AARP] Living in a mansion, driving a luxury car and lavishing expensive jewelry on himself, Sirhon "Ron" Rivers was at the top of the world — thanks to those who are six feet under.
Over four years, he stole $2.3 million by filing more than 800 fraudulent state income tax refunds — all by using the identities of people who had died.
"He went to genealogy websites to get Social Security numbers and other information of the deceased," explains Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Gonzalez, who helped put Rivers behind bars. (He's now serving 8 1/2 years in federal prison.) That information allowed Rivers to e-file credible tax returns and collect the refunds.
Other thieves using identities of the deceased have targeted the IRS. They netted $70 million in refunds from 19,000 federal returns for 2011 alone.
Postmortem identity theft may be shocking, but it's hardly rare, especially because the victims aren't around to complain. Each year the names and personal data of some 2.5 million deceased Americans are used to fraudulently apply for credit cards, loans, tax refunds and utility services, according to Stephen Coggeshall of ID Analytics, an identity-theft protection company in San Diego. "Their Social Security numbers are sometimes easier to find than credentials of the living."
Some crooks glean the numbers from accomplices working in hospitals or funeral homes. Others get them from state-run websites that publish death certificates, sometimes including Social Security numbers. Or they buy numbers on cyber black markets. "But perhaps the best-known source," Coggeshall says, "is the Social Security Administration's Death Master File."
The file contains the names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth and death of some 95 million deceased people. It allows employers, financial institutions and government agencies to identify fraud when processing applications, and is reportedly available only to these entities.
(This article originally appeared in the June 2015 AARP Bulletin, click on "Read More" above to view the complete article. Thank you to Karen Jackson for bringing this article to our attention)