The Death of the Death Master File (Sort of)

I’ve been complaining about the Death Master File for some time. This is a wonderful tool for identity thieves, allowing them to get all the details for an individual who has gone to the great beyond. As Jason Dinesen noted, it’s almost certainly the way one of his clients was a victim of identity theft. It’s also the method used in an attempted identity theft of my partner’s deceased stepfather.

But no more. Congress, as part of passing a budget (the first budget passed in years) inserted language requiring the Commerce Department to set up a process to verify users of the Death Master File; for “normal” users, it will take three years (after a person dies) before information is released.

What does this mean? First, file a final tax return for anyone who has passed on. That will tell the IRS that there should be no more tax returns for that social security number.

Second, while the Commerce Department has 90 days to set this program up, expect them to take longer. There’s no penalty on the government if it doesn’t act expeditiously, so I’d estimate it will be sometime in April at the earliest before this is set up. That means we have one more tax season of identity theft from the death master file.

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

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