STUMP » Articles » Mortality with Meep: How to Get Lots of Supercentenarians? Pension fraud! » 15 August 2019, 10:54

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Mortality with Meep: How to Get Lots of Supercentenarians? Pension fraud!  


15 August 2019, 10:54

As you know, being a life actuary, I’m really interested in death. (And yes, the Dominican Republic death stories seem to have fallen off. I guess real news has occurred. Need that constant content.)

I’m really interested in trends, especially in longevity. When I worked at TIAA, being one of the few companies where annuity owners actually annuitize, I used to try to scare my colleagues by sharing all sorts of juicy research on extending human life indefinitely, or to a thousand years, or something well beyond current lifetimes.

(Who are our customers? University professors and employees. Where do you think cutting-edge longevity extending research will be carried out? Who will be the first beneficiaries? MWA HA HA HA!)

There’s also some Society of Actuaries research that should be out this fall which has some great stuff in it (I’m in the oversight group), but I have to wait til official publication to share the goodies.

However, here’s a different piece of research that may show claims of super-longevity perhaps should be discounted.


Pre-print copy: Supercentenarians and the oldest-old are concentrated into regions with no birth certificates and short lifespans


The observation of individuals attaining remarkable ages, and their concentration into geographic sub-regions or ‘blue zones’, has generated considerable scientific interest. Proposed drivers of remarkable longevity include high vegetable intake, strong social connections, and genetic markers. Here, we reveal new predictors of remarkable longevity and ‘supercentenarian’ status. In the United States, supercentenarian status is predicted by the absence of vital registration. The state-specific introduction of birth certificates is associated with a 69-82% fall in the number of supercentenarian records. In Italy, which has more uniform vital registration, remarkable longevity is instead predicted by low per capita incomes and a short life expectancy. Finally, the designated ‘blue zones’ of Sardinia, Okinawa, and Ikaria corresponded to regions with low incomes, low literacy, high crime rate and short life expectancy relative to their national average. As such, relative poverty and short lifespan constitute unexpected predictors of centenarian and supercentenarian status, and support a primary role of fraud and error in generating remarkable human age records.

This is an pre-print, as mentioned above, so it’s not necessarily gone through a peer review, and even after that, the data (or something else) could be wrong.

But let’s look at something from the full paper:

Italians over the age of 100 are concentrated into the poorest, most remote and shortest-lived provinces, while US supercentenarians are concentrated into populations with incomplete vital registries. Both patterns are difficult to explain through biology, but are readily explained as economic drivers of pension fraud and reporting error.

There are two ways this pension fraud works: people having the incentive to take pension benefits earlier than they’ve qualified for and people hiding the death of an older relative, if these people have access to the funds.

Some coverage of this paper:

Vox: Study: many of the “oldest” people in the world may not be as old as we think

This one is a pretty good explainer (Vox is not necessarily idiotic all the time) — ending with:

The paper still needs to undergo peer review, but if its findings hold, it does illustrate an interesting statistical phenomenon: When you’re looking for something exceptionally rare, your data set will be dominated by errors and false positives. For example, if you’re looking for a disease that affects only one in a million people, and your test for the disease is 99.99 percent accurate, then it’ll turn up 100 false positives for every true positive. Even though you used a highly accurate test, most of your “positives” don’t have the disease!

Similarly, supercentenarians are extremely rare. Only about one in 1,000 people who live to the age of 100 make it to 110. The vast majority of people would never impersonate their parent or older sibling for benefits, or forge a birth certificate, or participate in identity theft, or get confused about how old they even are. But if one in 1,000 people would do that, then fraudulent supercentenarians will be more common than bona fide supercentenarians. When you’re looking at an exceptionally rare phenomenon, you have to be exceptionally careful — or you’ll mostly find yourself studying something else entirely.

This obviously extends beyond pension fraud.

LiveScience: The World’s Oldest People Might Not Be As Old As We Think

In 2010, an investigation into Japanese records found that 238,000 people greater than 100 years of age were actually missing or dead, leaving just 40,399 with known addresses, BBC reported. At that time, officials reported that many of the supposed centenarians had actually died or left the country following World War II. Another investigation earlier this year presented evidence that Jeanne Calment, who at 122 years old was the oldest woman whose age was well-documented, was actually her 99-year-old daughter, claiming her identity for a pension. Fraud and misreported data might seem especially unlikely in the case of Calment given how well-documented her life was, and the investigation’s allegations of fraud haven’t been confirmed. But it happens all the time, even among the highest-profile supercentenarians, said Saul Newman, a data scientist at Australian National University and author of the new BioRXiv study.

“The first two people to reach 112 were validated, then retracted. The first three people to reach 113 suffered the same fate,” he told Live Science in an email. “The ways in which these errors can escape detection, even under interview, are diverse.”

For what it’s worth, this is about extreme ages at death — beyond 100. We’re looking at a very small group of people.

Obviously, some extremely old people exist, thinking specifically of Kirk Douglas (102), Olivia de Haviland (103), and Betty White (97). Dick van Dyke is a youngster at 93.


Here are some key graphs from the paper:

The x axis in all four graphs are the probability of surviving to age 55. Note: for most of the data points, survivorship probability is over 95%. There’s a handful where it’s below.

For the handful below, interestingly, the official probability of making it to extreme ages: 95, 100, 105, and 110, is much higher than the statistical model would predict.

On top of that, the correlation of survivorship flips from positive to negative over age 100. The positive correlation (survival to age 55 & survival to age 95 or 100) is expected — one would expect good longevity to be correlated. You certainly don’t expect a negative correlation, as you see with survivorship to age 105 and 110.

But take a look at where that negative correlation is coming from: those outliers. In the earlier ages, there’s enough of a spread in the dependent variable (for the linear models), that the bulk of the data points, which show positive correlation, define that line. But for the high ages, all the “normal” data points are scrunched into a very narrow vertical range… and the outlier points in blue (and a few in orange) will affect that fit/correlation.


Back in 2010, I saw this story about how the purported oldest person in Tokyo… had been dead for decades:

He was thought to be the oldest man in Tokyo – but when officials went to congratulate Sogen Kato on his 111th birthday, they uncovered mummified skeletal remains lying in his bed.

Mr Kato may have been dead for 30 years according to Japanese authorities.

They grew suspicious when they went to honour Mr Kato at his address in Adachi ward, but his granddaughter told them he “doesn’t want to see anybody”.

Police are now investigating the family on possible fraud charges.

This is the problem with one common form of pension fraud: if the whole idea is you’re siphoning off the pension money, at some point you will have to report the death. Otherwise, they become the world’s oldest person and someone will want to cover them for media, etc.

At some point, the story will fall apart.

I wrote about the above story in 2016, because you can find out what happened to the defrauding relatives.


I’ve been keeping track of pension fraud since 2010 (in one of my usual Actuarial Outpost watch threads), spurred by the Japanese story.

At the time, and since, I’ve been wondering about whether this form of pension fraud would become more likely. What with almost all systems switching over to direct deposit, as well as automatic billpay, it wouldn’t be too unusual to think one might want to hide a death… if you could figure out what to do with the body.

That’s a problem. Which explains why that thread has only 69 posts in it. Contrast that to my public pensions watch thread, which I have to start anew each year, because I got complaints as I was running into over 1000 posts. (This year, post 1000 occurred in May.)

One of the issues with hiding a death and keep taking the money is what one does when you have to sign checks, etc:

That picture is from a 2009 case where a guy and his buddy were dressing up as the man’s dead mother, and trying to cash checks. He was sentenced to 13 2/3 to 41 years for the fraud.

“It’s amazing — it’s amazing!” Justice Vincent Del Giudice said as he sentenced the frail, bearded man. “It borders on ludicrous that you expected to get away with this.”

Prusik-Parkin’s actress mom, Irene, was 73 when she died in 2003. Within days of Prusik’s death, authorities charged, her son changed her Social Security numbers and doctored other documents.

The admitted Norman Bates admirer’s kooky cross-dressing caper fell apart in 2009 when he donned the matronly getup to tell Brooklyn prosecutors he was being ripped off by a man who bought out of foreclosure the $2.2 million Park Slope building deeded to him by his mom.

Del Giudice shook his head as he recalled how the elderly “woman” claimed she had cataracts when an investigator from the Brooklyn DA’s Office asked why the lights in her apartment were dimmed.

It gets funnier from there.

In general, various entities are out there explicitly looking for this type of fraud. I know the New York AG & Comptroller are into this, because I get a press release each time one of these pension fraud cases goes to court (and then when the inevitable conviction or plea deal occurs). The Office of the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration is on it.


I think the bigger danger is the undetected death of people … where the automatic direct deposit and the auto billpay hides that they died months before.

Consider the demographic trend:

I had a relative die and not have his body found til a few weeks later. He had alienated all family except for my mother, essentially, and she called him once a month (even she could take only so much.) She hadn’t been able to get in touch with him, so she had local family call the cops for a welfare check.

What they found wasn’t pretty. No, it didn’t make the news, and no, it wasn’t mentioned in the obituary.

Imagine how many such cases are going on in your own town, especially as people have fewer children. In a huge family, my cousin had one person checking on him regularly. When there’s only one or two of a younger generation… and they don’t particularly like you? Or, as is common with many people I know — you live alone, you have no kids, all relatives are remote… you can easily die alone at home and nobody would know for quite some time.


Second death trend storyline game.

I contributed most of the data/comments to this. You know how I love trends!

My prior post on Storyline is here.

Ah, what I consider fun….

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