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Questions about identity security raised by Social Security paperwork mix up

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Posted at 12:14 PM, Jul 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-21 16:56:24-05

It's unique to you and shouldn't be shared with anyone else. Your Social Security number should always be kept private and you would expect the Social Security Administration to take the confidentiality of that information more seriously than anyone else. 

Contact 13 chief investigator Darcy Spears discovered that your information may not be as secure as you think while investigating a local man's paperwork mix up. Watch the full story tonight at 6 P.M. on 13 Action News.

Derek Green has multiple sclerosis and wishes he didn't have to rely on Social Security disability benefits

 "I'll probably end up in a wheelchair or not being able to walk, possibly losing my eyesight. I feel pretty worthless without being able to work and take care of my family."

But Derek does have to make an effort to ensure that the benefits he relies on to help pay the bills will continue to be available. 

The Social Security Administration regularly reviews the cases of people who get disability benefits. Every year Derek and others like him have to fill out forms so the government can decide if they're still disabled according to federal guidelines.

When Derek got his paperwork this year, he discovered a serious slip up by Social Security. Inside the envelope he found the names, addresses and Social Security numbers of five people.


"I was shocked. I was worried about how many people got my social security number and home address and if they were going to steal my identity. How could somebody make a mistake like that?"

We spoke with 13 Action News crime and safety expert and retired LVMPD lieutenant Randy Sutton about the consequences of this error. 

"The real dilemma is that the Social Security Administration has huge amounts of data. If they don't safeguard it, how are people supposed to be safe from identity theft?" Sutton said.

We decided to see how easy it would be to track people using these forms and spoke with one of the people whose information was contained in Derek's packet.  We were able to find out her full name, her date of birth, and her previous address all with her Social Security number.

On the phone, Michaela told us that she was never notified by Social Security that her information was compromised.

"We don't know if it's on a large scale or a small scale and we'll probably never get the answer from the Social Security Administration," Sutton added.

The Social Security Administration wouldn't take questions or give answers on camera.  They sent an email saying the incident is a "very rare occurrence and the result of human error."  They say they don't track how often it happens, but that "one incident is too many."  As a result of our investigation, they've provided employees with training and reminders to protect sensitive information.

Here's a list of the questions that we asked the Social Security Administration:

  1. How did this happen? Was it human error or are envelopes stuffed by a machine?
  2. What oversight is in place to prevent this from happening?
  3. This not the first time we've reported on this. What changes have/will be made to prevent it from happening again?
  4. What action did you take to address the incident?
  5. When and how were the affected individuals notified that their personal information had been compromised?
  6. Please provide statistical perspective to put this occurrence into context.  How often has this happened in relation to number of Continuing Disability Review cases handled over the past three years? I note that you call it "very rare," but we'd like actual numbers.
  7. Despite sophisticated tracking software, we were unable to find ANY records for **************, Claim Number: *************.  Can you confirm that this is legitimate or is fraud suspected?  Is there an investigation of any kind?

Statement we received from the Social Security Administration:

The incident, a very rare occurrence, is a result of human error. We provided our employees with training and reminders to protect sensitive information.
While we do not track the statistics that you are requesting, one incident is too many because we take our responsibility to safeguard information entrusted to us very seriously.
Additionally, our privacy rules safeguard our customers from public discussions on the specifics of their individual cases.
We apologize for any inconvenience and remain committed to public service and the people we serve.
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