GAO: Dead people can still get passports

The State Department should check all U.S. passport applications against a federal database of deaths to ensure that passports are not issued to individuals who use the identities of dead people, the Government Accountability Office recommends in a new report.

Passport specialists should check applicants’ Social Security numbers against the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File database, GAO said in a report issued April 13. The file contains the Social Security numbers of deceased individuals.

The State Department recently purchased access to the Death Master File database but is not checking it for each applicant, GAO said.

GAO’s report is the latest in a series of inquiries into passport fraud conducted in the past four years. From July 2005 to August 2008, GAO identified 112 individuals who fraudulently obtained U.S. passports using the birth certificates of deceased Americans.

Despite State's actions to tighten controls in 2007 and 2008, fraud involving the use of dead people's Social Security numbers continues, GAO said. In a December 2008 investigation, GAO was able to obtain a U.S. passport using counterfeit documents and the Social Security number of a man who had died in 1965.

“State officials have known about vulnerabilities in the passport issuance process for many years but have failed to effectively address these vulnerabilities,” GAO’s latest report states. “The fact that our undercover investigator obtained a genuine U.S. passport using the SSN of a man who died in 1965 is particularly troubling given that a simple check of SSA’s publicly available Death Master File would have disclosed the fraud.”

GAO recommended that passport adjudicators perform mandatory checks of the death file for all passport applications unless there are specific or extenuating circumstances.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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