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Protect Yourself From This Fatal Mistake

18 Apr
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Protect Yourself From This Fatal Mistake

When Benjmain Franklin wrote, “…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes” few could argue his position.

Today, however, it’s a different story and alas it’s not taxes that are in doubt but rather one’s own existence… or lack thereof.

You see Mr Franklin lived and died long before the Social Security Administration was established and longer still before that organization began compiling its Death Master File.

The Death Master File is a computer database holding information on over 100 million deceased individuals who held Social Security numbers and whose deaths were reported to the Administration.

It’s used by banks, the IRS, Medicare, law enforcement, and the like to match records and prevent identity fraud.

Once you make the list, you’re dead. No exceptions.

Except… when you’re not.

Case in point: Don Pilger. When Don reported the death of his wife to the Social Security Administration they wrongly listed him as dead instead—a discovery he made when he found himself locked out of his bank account.

Then there was Judy Rivers. Her name incorrectly made its way onto the Death Master File and it led to her being arrested on suspicion of identity fraud and financially ruined. When she protested her existence to a credit agency she was told to send in her information for their consideration.

Next was the Boston doctor for whom the news of one of his patient’s deaths—discovered when he went to renew a prescription for the man—came as a shock. A bigger shock still came when he called the man’s family to offer his condolences only for the “deceased” to answer the phone.

The man explained how he learned of his own demise when he lost access to his bank accounts, had his health insurance cancelled, and his Social Security payments cut off.

A clerical error was the likely culprit in each case—and in the cases of the hundreds of alive and kicking individuals who somehow make the list each month—but in many ways the bigger problem is the reliance on technology.

If the computer says it, it must be so.

And it’s not just a problem in the U.S.

In 1999 the U.K. Post Office introduced a new accounting and stocktaking system called Horizon. Postmasters in charge of branches across the country quickly noticed glitches in the system were creating non-existent shortfalls for huge sums of money but their concerns were dismissed.

With the shortfalls continuing to show up in accounts, the Post Office—so convinced that the numbers couldn’t lie—pursued its postmasters for the “missing” money. As a result, hundreds of people were wrongly convicted for theft, fraud, and false accounting based on the faulty data before the scandal finally came to light.

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I was reminded once again of just how much people prefer to rely on technology over reality when trying to ascertain the status of a flight from Panama to Paris and handle a subsequent rebooking recently.

Computers offered a detour through Istanbul… An overnight layover in Colombia

My “no change” ticket was, the computer confirmed, 100% cancelled, yet I wound up with two seats booked in my name…

And it struck me that some ground staff seem more confident of a plane’s arrival not from the thunder of jet engines and appearance of an Airbus outside the window but rather from a flashing confirmation on their computer screen.

So it goes.

As to a solution to this ever-worsening problem…

While on hold to the airline I gave serious consideration to becoming an IT expert and figuring out a way to take us all offline permanently, but the time and logistics involved rule it out for now.

Instead, I take comfort in the fact that even if my name accidentally wound up on the Death Master File in the morning I’d still exist somewhere in the world…

In the countries outside home borders where I’ve planted flags… Panama, for example, where I’ve staked my claim at Los Islotes… and in Ireland where I hold a passport… and in the various other countries where I hold bank accounts and real estate

It’s a way to protect yourself and your assets from events outside of your control, be they wars, financial crashes, or killer computer glitches…

Stay diversified,

Lief Simon

Lief Simon

Editor, Offshore Living Letter