The genealogical community has been alarmed at the growing movement to restrict access to vital records. One of the most debated examples is the possibility of the end of access to the Social Security Administrations Death Master File (and its commercially available Social Security Death Index, SSDI). See related posts here.
Too many have taken a heads in the sand approach that genealogical records and couldn't be used for anything but peaches and cream. Ignoring our responsibilities for sound data management policies and practices is a recipe for disaster.
Hat tip to Dick Eastman for bringing attention to the tax fraud case of a family using Ancestry.com records for tax fraud, "The family used the family research website Ancestry.com to find names and Social Security Numbers of recently deceased people and used the information to file fraudulent claims." He links to the original story here.
In light of the potential for abuse of information in its databases, Ancestry.com changed its practices for SSDI searches:
Why can’t I see the Social Security Number? If the Social Security Number is not visible on the record index it is because Ancestry.com does not provide this number in the Social Security Death Index for any person that has passed away within the past 10 years.
So while Ancestry.com might not be a source for SSDI criminal abuse, other genealogical sites also access to the SSDI database without such a long delay. Of course, the real problem lies with the Social Security Administration, as Eastman explains:
Apparently the Internal Revenue Service wasn't smart enough to do the same thing: the IRS sent refund checks without checking the Social Security's Death Master File despite the fact that the death records have been available to the IRS as well as to banks, credit card companies, and to many others for years.
I am always amazed that the Internal Revenue Service issues refund checks without even performing a simple look-up to see if the payee is alive. That look-up could be performed within a few milliseconds on the IRS computers.
Genealogists who want continued access to vital records need to engage government officials as well work with the privacy community and technology experts. Eating sand doesn't taste like peaches and cream.