RIVERSIDE, N.J. (CBS) – A grieving family is left to dispute with the IRS after learning someone stole their dead child’s identity.
Equally disturbing is how easily the tax cheater got the information.
Aimee and Everett Dunlap of Riverside, New Jersey told Eyewitness News they are still grieving the loss of their son. But they say their anguish turned to anger when they were dealt with another blow — someone had stolen Everett Jr.’s identity.
“There are some real crooked people out there,” Everett Dunlap said.
We met Everett Jr. in October 2009. Battling brain cancer for 10 years, with his parents in a financial bind, Everett had every reason to ask for a helping hand. But at the time, he was selling energy drinks to raise money to help other children with cancer. He died last January. He was only 17.
Aimee Dunlap said, “Now I have to prove that he’s my child? That’s not right.”
It was when the Dunlaps filed their 2010 taxes and claimed Everett as a dependent that they learned someone had already claimed their son’s social security number.
“What do you mean someone’s claimed my son? How’s that possible?” Everett Dunlap said.
Eyewitness News found that it was rather simple. The social security number of a deceased person can be obtained legally through the government, but we also found the same information on some free commercial websites.
In an e-mail, an official with the Social Security Administration explained that by law, when someone dies, their social security number becomes public record.
Anna Sachs, a partner at Savran Benson LLP, a CPA firm explained, “It really is identity theft, essentially.”
In fact, in the last year, families from at least six states reported that a stranger claimed their dead child as a dependent.
Sachs said, “The only possible thing you can try to do is file as early as possible so that no one else has a chance to claim your child.”
Aimee Dunlap added, “Parents shouldn’t have to go through this. It’s like losing the child all over again.”
As it stands now, no one’s information can be removed for any reason. The affected families are trying to change that law. The Dunlaps contacted Congressman Jon Runyan, whose office informed Eyewitness News, the Congressman will do what he can to bring the Dunlaps some closure.
If you’d like more information about identity theft, check out the following links from the IRS and the FTC:
Also here’s some additional background information Eyewitness News obtained from the Social Security Administration on the “public record” of deceased persons:
* SSA sells the information under the Freedom of Information Act.
* It was created in 1980 because of a lawsuit filed in 1978 by Ronald Perholtz in Federal District court.
* SSA has never provided online access to the information. Many companies have created and provide online access to the information.
* Depending on the site, they offer searches free or for a fee.
* These are all commercial web sites and SSA’s policy generally prohibits providing a link to or recommending a commercial web site as SSA cannot endorse or appear to endorse any commercial products or services.
* SSA cannot vouch that the information offered by these commercial sites is up-to-date.
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Reported by Elizabeth Hur, CBS 3