WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans are getting older, but not this old: Social Security benefits records show that 6.5 million people in the U.S. have reached the age of 112.
In reality, only few could possibly be alive. As of last fall, there were only 42 people known to be that old in the entire world.
But Social Security does not have death records for millions of these people, with the oldest born in 1869, according to a report by the agency's inspector general.
Only 13 of the people are still getting Social Security benefits, the report said. But for others, their Social Security numbers are still active, so a number could be used to report wages, open bank accounts, obtain credit cards or claim fraudulent tax refunds.
"That is a real problem,'' said Sen. Ron Johnson. He is chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which plans a hearing Monday on problems with death records maintained by the Social Security Administration.
The agency said it is working to improve the accuracy of its death records. But it would be costly and time-consuming to update 6.5 million files that were generated decades ago, when the agency used paper records, said Sean Brune, a senior adviser.
The internal watchdog's report does not document any fraudulent or improper payments to people using these Social Security numbers. But it raises warnings that it could be happening.
For example, nearly 67,000 of the Social Security numbers were used to report more than $3 billion in wages, tips and self-employment income from 2006 to 2011, according to the report.
People in the country illegally often use fake or stolen Social Security numbers to get jobs and report wages, as do other people who do not want to be found by the government.
The Internal Revenue Service estimated it paid out $5.8 billion in fraudulent tax refunds in 2013 because of identity theft.
The Social Security Administration generates a list of dead people to help public agencies and private companies know when Social Security numbers are no longer valid for use. The list is widely used by employers, financial firms, credit reporting agencies and security firms.
But none of the 6.5 million people cited by the inspector general's report was on the list. The audit analyzed records as of 2013, looking for people with birth dates before 1901.
The agency says it has corrected death information in more than 200,000 records. But fixing the entire list would be costly and time-consuming because Social Security needs proof that a person is dead to add them to the death list, said Brune.
Nearly all the Social Security numbers are from paper records generated before the agency started using electronic records in 1972, he said.