UPDATED 07:15 EDT / MARCH 17 2015

The Walking Dead? Flawed data shows over 6.5 million Americans are aged 112

zombie-643461_640People might be living longer, but not this long. Flawed data from the U.S. Social Security Administration shows that over 6.5 million American citizens have reached the ripe old age of 112. Of course, barely a handful of those people are really still alive, given the Gerontology Research Group claims there were only 61 people in the world known to be 112 or over as of October 2014.

The misleading figures are an embarrasing example of what can go wrong when you don’t keep your data up to date. The agency’s problem is it doesn’t have death records for millions of people its issued Social Security numbers too, and so they’re still technically ‘alive’, even though just 13 of those people are still claiming Social Security benefits. But the 6.5 million numbers are still active, which means they could be used to open bank accounts, report earnings, file for fradulent tax refunds and obtain credit cards. They can also be used by people who don’t want to be found by the government but still need to obtain a job.

It’s believed that some fraudsters are already taking advantage of the situation. The Internal Revenue Service estimates it paid out $5.8 billion in fraudulent tax refunds in 2013 due to identity theft. Meanwhile, almost 67,000 of the ‘expired’ but still active Social Security numbers were used to report over $3 billion worth of self-employment income, tips and wages from 2006 to 2011, the report claims. Some 194 of the numbers have been used at least fifty times, while one number was used over 600 times, according to the agency.

The Associated Press quotes Senator Ron Johnson as saying “This is a real problem.”

Unfortunately, it’s not a problem that can be easily fixed either, due to the age of the flawed data and strict regulations. Sean Brune, an advisor in the Social Security Administration, told AP that many of the records in question are probably paper-based, because the agency only began using electronic records in 1972. Social Security has managed to correct over 200,000 records, but a proof of death requirement means correcting them all will be an extremely difficult task.

Image credit: SvenKirsch via Pixabay.com

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