Month after month, year after year, unbeknownst to most of the public, thousands of people with no Social Security number are receiving Social Security benefits. The beneficiaries don't qualify for benefits based on their own work record. Eighty-three percent of them don't even reside in this country. A few of those receiving benefits are even dead.
Known as "auxiliary beneficiaries," they are children, widows, spouses, and parents, entitled to benefits on the record of another individual. The Social Security Act requires that individuals first entitled to benefits as of June 1, 1989 or later, must have applied for a Social Security number (SSN) to receive benefits. But a recent audit by the Social Security Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that, as of June 2014, there are 11,179 auxiliary beneficiaries without SSNs receiving benefits because of a loophole — they became entitled to benefits prior to June 1, 1989 and therefore are not required to have an SSN on the Social Security Administration's Master Benefit Record (MBR)or to have applied for one to receive benefits.
Auxiliary beneficiaries who lack SSNs heighten the risk of improper payments and fraud. The OIG said that the Social Security Administration sometimes has trouble making timely terminations of benefit payments when the beneficiary without his or her own Social Security number dies. Making accurate payments, however, is complicated by the fact that 83% of auxiliary beneficiaries without an SSN identified in the OIG's audit reside outside the United States. In addition, more than 5,000 of the auxiliary beneficiaries are age 90 or older. In fact, the OIG audit uncovered three cases in which the Social Security Administration continued to improperly pay benefits long after the beneficiary had died.
The Social Security OIG report concluded, "Having an SSN on the MBR— regardless of the date of entitlement — improves the Social Security Administration's ability to prevent improper payments," and recommended that the agency take additional steps to ensure the oldest auxiliary beneficiaries without an SSN are still alive. Yet the Social Security Administration disagreed, saying that the Agency "believed current policies and safeguards were appropriate to meet program needs."
The OIG did not estimate the amount that the 11,179 collected in benefits in 2014, no doubt because privacy laws prevent the Social Security Administration from sharing that information. TSCL's Social Security policy analyst and Advisor editor Mary Johnson, however, estimates that this group of auxiliary beneficiaries may have received more than $115 million in benefits in 2014, based on current Social Security statistical data. TSCL agrees with the OIG, and believes that with Social Security in deficit, the Social Security Administration must do more to prevent improper payments.
Sources: "Auxiliary Beneficiaries Who Do Not Have Their Own Social Security Number," Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General, September 2014, A-01-14-14036.