By Jon Hilkevitch
7:22 AM CST, November 12, 2013
Stetson Siler of Oak Park went out to his mailbox one day last week, saw an envelope for a new Ventra card and wondered who would be getting one first, him or his wife.
Turns out, neither.
The disabled Air Force veteran, who was eagerly awaiting his Ventra ride-free military service pass so he can use it on the CTA, discovered that the card was for his mother, Ann, who died five years ago.
"She hasn't ridden the 'L' since,'' said Siler, 60, who is a frequent transit rider.
"We both laughed when we saw it was for my mother, but this made me wonder how many dead people are receiving cards," Siler said. "This looks like a big opportunity for fraud."
The RTA has a database of deceased former riders to help weed out fraud, one it has used during the Ventra rollout. When contacted by the Tribune, agency officials looked into the Ventra card issued to Siler's late mother and said that two or more digits in her Social Security number could have been transposed, thereby preventing her card from being flagged.
The RTA projects that by deactivating cards that would otherwise go out to dead people, the CTA, Metra and Pace avoid losing about $350,000 a year.
An RTA audit found that about 5 percent of senior free-ride cards were used after the cardholders' deaths, anywhere from a few times each to 1,400 times before being deactivated.
Siler's wife, Katherine, did finally receive her Ventra reduced-fare card, the couple said Monday.
But until informed by the Tribune, Stetson Siler was unaware that military service passes, which are handled through the CTA, are distributed on an in-person basis only.
Disabled veterans can go to CTA headquarters, 567 W. Lake St., Chicago, through Wednesday or after Nov. 27 to the Ventra customer service center, 165 N. Jefferson St., Chicago, or call 888-YOUR-CTA.
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