Thousands of workers over the age of 100 applied through the U.S. government to verify their employment eligibility in recent years.
It’s not a trend toward an older workforce, but a sign of identity fraud, according to federal auditors.
A recent watchdog review found that at least 6.5 million active Social Security numbers belong to people who are at least 112 years old and likely deceased. Only 35 living individuals worldwide had reached that age as of October 2013, according to the Gerontology Research Group.
The Social Security Administration’s inspector general said in a report on Monday that the questionable identification numbers put the government at risk of fraud and waste.
The review found that one individual opened bank accounts using Social Security numbers for individuals born in 1869 and 1893.
The official database of active Social Security numbers showed that both beneficiaries were alive, meaning they would be older than 145 and 121 years, respectively.
Auditors also discovered that nearly 67,000 Social Security numbers in recent years were used to report wages for people other than the cardholders. The workers reported about $3 billion in earnings between 2006 and 2011.
The report faulted the Social Security Administration for poorly managing data on “numberholders who exceeded maximum reasonable life expectancies and were likely deceased.”
Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)and Tom Carper (D-Del.), who head the Senate committee that oversees the Social Security Administration, said in a joint statement on Monday that the agency needs to clean up its files to prevent fraud.
“It is incredible that the Social Security Administration in 2015 does not have the technical sophistication to ensure that people they know to be deceased are actually noted as dead,” Johnson said. “This problem has serious consequences.”
Among the issues that auditors found, nearly 3,900 Social Security numbers were run through the U.S. government’s E-Verify system for people more than a century old between 2008 and 2011.
“Not only do these types of avoidable errors waste millions of taxpayers’ dollars annually and expose our citizens to identify theft, but they also undermine confidence in our government,” Carper said.
Auditors proposed that the Social Security Administration take action to correct its death records, but the agency disagreed, saying it doesn’t want to divert resources away from efforts to improve payment accuracy with benefits.
“The recommendations would create a significant manual and labor-intensive workload and provide no benefit to the administration of our programs,” Social Security management said in a response to the review.
The agency agreed to other proposals, including one to resolve cases in which multiple individuals are using the same number.