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About 81 percent of the people in America who die are collecting Social Security benefits. Too often, the checks keep coming after that, an internal investigation says.

It can take the Social Security Administration months to catch on. Unless something steps in, the system does what it's supposed to: It mails checks.That's where DACUS comes in. It stands for Death Alert, Control and Update System, a program that runs on Social Security's main computers in Baltimore.

The program takes in death rec-ords from the states and other sources and checks them against the list of Social Security beneficiaries.

But a report by Richard Kusserow, inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, says the program is prone to reject information, meaning some deaths are not recorded. The report said rejected information is not fixed and fed back into the system quickly.

An auditor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said there was no estimate of how much money was being paid to people who have died. But the inspector general's report, issued last month, said fixing the problems would have allowed the system to record an additional 172,105 deaths in 1989.

In all, 2.1 million people in America die every year; 1.7 million of them are getting money from Social Security, the report said.

"Social Security recovers most of these incorrect payments after death," the auditor said this week.

The reason is that beneficiaries have to file an income tax form the government sends out every year, and if that form comes back to Social Security as undeliverable mail, the person is presumed dead. The checks stop.

Social Security already has made improvements in the computer program and has said it will do more, Kusserow's report said.