CBA Comments to Dept. of Commerce re: Access to Social Security Public Death Master File

RE: Request for Information, National Technical Information Service, U.S. Department of Commerce, Docket Number: [140205103-4103-01] 

 

Dear Mr. Hounsell:

The Consumer Bankers Association (CBA) appreciates the opportunity to comment on the National Technical Information Service’s (NTIS) Request for Information (RFI) seeking public comments regarding the establishment of an NTIS certification program for persons who seek access to the Social Security Administration’s Public Death Master File (DMF).

Section 203(f) of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (Act)2 , requires the Department of Commerce to establish a certification program (Program) for those wanting to access the DMF. Under the Act, the certification provisions take effect ninety days after the date of the enactment, which was December 3, 2013. Thus, the date of required certification for those wanting access to the DMF would be March 26, 2014, well before a certification program could be established. This creates a situation that will effectively cut off all access to the DMF for industries that use it for legitimate business purposes, which lead to an increase in fraud, a reduction in compliance with state and federal law, and overall harm to the economy.

CBA contends it was not the legislative intent of the Act to deny access to the DMF prior to the establishment of a certification program. We urge the NTIS to adopt an interim final rule to ensure uninterrupted access to the DMF pending adoption of a final rule. This will allow an appropriate amount of time for the NTIS to give full consideration to comments received and for the crafting of a successful certification program that is in the public interest. 

CBA believes the NTIS has good cause for issuing an interim final rule. The DMF is unique in its composition and compilation. As discussed in greater detail below, there is no alternative to the DMF that would allow banks and other businesses to conduct fraud-prevention efforts and related business activities in a similar manner.

Discussion

Access to the DMF database is critical to many industries, including financial services. Under the Act, a person seeking access to the DMF database must meet certain conditions in order to be certified, which include having a legitimate fraud prevention or business purpose for such access. CBA is supportive of the objectives of the Act and believes an appropriate certification of persons seeking DMF access will help prevent fraudulent and other abusive use of DMF information.

CBA member banks are committed to respecting the rights and the dignity of their customers who have died. Among other uses, CBA members rely heavily on DMF information for fraud prevention purposes, highly-sensitive collections activities and compliance with existing law. CBA believes our members’ uses of the DMF database fall well within the statutes permissible purposes and should be certified for continued use. 

Fraud Prevention

Accurate and prompt identification of fraudulent activity is critical to the operations of CBA member banks. Without access to the DMF database, banks would be severely disadvantaged in their attempts to guard against fraud perpetuated by the use of a deceased customer’s personal and financial information. The DMF helps banks quickly identity, verify and authenticate transactions, leading to an overall reduction in fraud.

Fraud committed against businesses carries real and substantial costs. The dramatic increase in fraud caused by a shut-off of the DMF would lead to staggering losses for businesses at a critical time for the American economy. By preventing fraudulent use of a deceased customer’s information, banks are able to keep overall fraud down, thus, benefiting all consumers and the overall economy through reduced costs. 

Default Management

The DMF database helps CBA member banks proceed appropriately when collecting on deceased customer accounts that have gone delinquent and are subsequently moved to collections for follow-up. By not knowing if a customer is deceased, collectors are likely to continue collection efforts by calling the decedent’s numbers on file in an attempt to resolve account delinquencies. The information provided by the DMF helps ensure collection calls can be directed appropriately and will not be received by the families of the deceased at what is likely to be a very sensitive and emotional-charged time in their lives. When properly informed about a customer’s death, banks are better situated to properly direct collection efforts to the executor or administrator of the deceased customer’s estate. 

Additionally, the DMF allows banks to properly assess the need to formally file their claims when an estate is probated. As such, not having access to the DMF could lead to delays in contacting the executor of the estate in order to resolve account deficiencies, causing continued accrual of interest and fees.

Compliance

Denial of access to the DMF would lead to a decrease in compliance with existing state and federal laws that impose legal obligations on financial institutions and other industries that can be satisfied only by having access to the DMF. Accordingly, a shut-off would prevent companies from carrying out their legal obligations.

For example, Red Flag Rules require many businesses and organizations to implement individual written identity theft prevention programs designed to detect the warning signs of identity theft in their day-to-day operations, including flagging a Social Security Number that has not been issued or is listed on the DMF. Without access to the DMF, compliance with these laws would be difficult, if not impossible. 

Conclusion

An abrupt shut-off of access to the DMF will produce negative outcomes when the need for uninterrupted access is critical. With no adequate substitute for the DMF database, the financial services industry and others will be left with no solutions to properly identify deceased consumers, leaving consequences that will ultimately put consumers at risk. We urge the NTIS to immediately adopt an interim final rule to ensure continued access while a certification program is being developed and while certification applications are pending. We further urge the NTIS to adopt a certification regime that incorporates the statutorily permissible purposes as outlined in this letter. 

 

David Pommerehn

​ AVP/Senior Counsel

Consumer Bankers Association