Understanding the Death Master File Search: 5 Things You Should Know

Marketing Specialist

What happens to a person’s information such as their Social Security Number (SSN) once they’ve passed away? In 1980, the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) developed an electronic database called the Death Master File (DMF), or sometimes referred to as the Social Security Death Index (SSDI), which currently contains over 85 million Social Security records of deceased individuals issued since 1936.

While the DMF is not perfect, many large credit firms and governmental agencies use the database as a means to safeguard their organization from employing individuals using false identities or identities of deceased persons. To better understand the DMF search and what it encompasses, here are five things you should know.

1. What is included in a DMF search?

The DMF search is a query of the SSA’s master list of all reported deaths, which includes, if available, the deceased person’s:

  • First Name
  • Middle Name
  • Surname
  • SSN
  • Date of Birth
  • Date of Death

This information is often passed on to the SSA by family members, funeral homes, financial institutions, postal authorities, States and other Federal agencies.

2. How accurate is the data?

The DMF is used by several types of organizations as well as government agencies to prevent identity fraud. However, it’s important to note that the database is not a comprehensive list and does not contain all deaths; thus, the absence of a particular person does not verify that he or she is alive.

3. Who can access these files?

These files compiled by the SSA can be retrieved by both Federal and State agencies. They must enter into a data exchange agreement with the administration to receive either the “full file” or the “public file.”

  • The full file contains all death records extracted from the administration’s NUMIDENT database, including death data received from the States and is shared only with certain Federal and State agencies under section 205(r) of the Social Security Act.
  • The public file contains death records extracted from the administration’s NUMIDENT database, but it does not include death data from the States. This version is provided to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Technical Information Service (NTIS), which sells the information to the public such as banks and credit reporting agencies (CRAs).

4. What is its value?

Running financial, credit, and other applications against the DMF can help companies better identify and prevent identity fraud. For example, employers can use the information to check their employee population to ensure none are using the identity of a deceased person; moreover, the SSA can use the information to identify decedents or survivors to make sure checks don’t go out to the deceased and that survivors get the benefits they’re entitled to. Today, the SSA and NTIS are not only working together to offer the files more frequently and with fewer delays, but they are also providing weekly and monthly updates electronically to reduce handling and production time.

5. What are its implications?

A DMF search can help organizations determine if applicants or employees are using a deceased person’s identity and take the necessary action of resolution. In the event an error is discovered on a record, the affected individual is advised to contact their local Social Security office (not SSA headquarters or NTIS) to make the correction. Once the correction is made, the SSA will issue the individual a verification document that holds their latest records to use to show any company recipient/purchaser of the DMF that had the error.

What are your thoughts on the DMF search? Is it part of your employment screening program? Please share in the comments section below.

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