“The Social Security Death Index is the commercial name for what the government refers to as the Death Master File (DMF). The Death Master File is available to the public; however obtaining full access is difficult. On December 26, 2013 President Obama signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 which among other things limited access to the Death Master File in order to curb identity theft. In order to access the DMF one must now be certified by the Secretary of Commerce to have a “legitimate fraud prevention interest or a legitimate business purpose pursuant to law, rule, regulation or fiduciary duty.”
In addition to being certified, there is a substantial fee. At the time of writing this, a yearly subscription costs nearly $1,400.00 per year.
Banks, financial institutions, investigators, people finding services and genealogy searching sites are among those who are certified to access the DMF. Some of these sites make the information available to the public in the form of Social Security Death Index search tools (these search tools are required by law to pay for updates to the DMF in order to keep their records up-to-date).
The Social Security Death Index contains nearly 90 million records. There are records for people born as early as the 1800’s however there are very few. These death records were originally stored in paper form in filing cabinets in Social Security Administration buildings across the county. In the late 20th century, Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software was used to digitize the records.
Because of the difficulty of keeping physical records and the tediousness of digitizing them, there are numerous errors throughout the data set – omissions, misspellings, missing data, different date formats, and typos are common. Bigger mistakes such as mixing up first and last name are not unheard of. If a name or Social Security Number is not found in the database it does not mean the person is still alive. Corrections can be made to the Social Security Death Index by submitting corrections to your local Social Security Office.”
I read the highlights of the bill and confirmed that the government did indeed institute this “fee based access”.
Thus we are taking the death list out of future manuals. If you choose to pay for the service or use a free service if you can find one, that is fine.
Nelson A. Locke
Compliance Services, USA