If you, too, find that you are having trouble proving to lenders that you're alive, don't panic.
Prepare a detailed, notarized dispute for the credit-reporting agencies that includes documentation proving you're alive, and send it by certified mail, say experts.
Also send a notarized copy of your dispute and copies of supporting evidence to any furnisher or creditor that you believe may be responsible for the mistake. If you believe the Social Security Administration is responsible for the mistake, contact your local Social Security office.
In addition, write down the name and number of every person you talk to over the phone, including what the person promised he would do for you, says Mark. "Create your own paper trail at home, and don't be afraid to step up who you talk to," he says.
If nothing works and your credit information is still shut down, seek legal help. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you are entitled to seek legal action when legitimate errors -- such as being mistakenly declared dead -- aren't corrected in a reasonable period of time.
Finally, remain calm, says Willis. If you believe you've located the source of the error, try calling repeatedly until you get a sympathetic voice on the line, he says. "I found one of those individuals with Capital One, and I found one with Equifax," says Willis.
Explain your situation and understand that the person is at the low end of the totem pole and may not be able to do much to help you, he adds. "The natural tendency is just to boil up, but it doesn't help anyone to do that. You just have to try to reason with them. Try to remain calm and reasoned, and try not to appear like a nut."
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Credit-reporting agencies are required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act to thoroughly investigate any item on a credit report that a consumer says is wrong. However, in many cases, Francis says, the original furnisher of the information got the record wrong, not the credit bureau, and the credit-reporting agencies don't follow up.
"The credit-reporting agencies don't conduct any type of independent investigation," says Francis. Instead, they send a consumer's dispute to the organization that supplied the information and rely on it to look into whether a consumer is really dead. "That's how things are getting verified," he says.
If a creditor looks at its records and sees that the consumer is listed in its files as deceased, it might not dig further, says Francis. "They're not really that interested in conducting investigations," he says. "It's not really a profit center for them, so they are doing the bare minimum." As a result, the creditor sometimes ends up repeating the same inaccurate information to the credit bureaus.
At that point, consumers have few options but to wait and try again.
Banks and other creditors are required by law to thoroughly investigate whether the information they have on file is correct, says Francis. "They have the same duty that the credit-reporting agency has," he says. "Both the credit-reporting agency and the furnisher must conduct a reasonable investigation." So consumers have the legal ammunition to fight back against credit-reporting agencies' and furnishers' claims that they are dead.
However, they have little power to speed up the process and get their credit reports unlocked when they need them.
"It takes a really persistent effort" to get a dispute resolved, says Nina Heck, the director of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Maryland and Delaware. "Sometimes (a dispute) has to be resubmitted and resubmitted."
Heck has worked with multiple clients who have been mistakenly declared dead, and she says it often occurs because a client's name was mixed up with someone else's.
When that happens, proving you are who you say you are can be a challenge, she says. "First, you have to prove that you are you, and then you have to be able to validate that this (other) person is deceased," says Heck.
Beware of the Death Master File
Consumers who have been accidentally declared dead by the Social Security Administration, rather than a creditor, have it even worse. The Social Security Administration keeps a master list called the Death Master File that lists everyone in the United States who has died. Sometimes, a person will get mixed up with someone else, or a typographical error will cause that person to be listed as deceased.
Once a consumer is listed as dead in the Death Master File, numerous stakeholders are notified, including the credit bureaus and other government agencies. Soon after, that individual's credit reports are shut down, his or her benefits are cut off, and the person can't get a new job (that requires a valid Social Security number for a living person).
Getting taken off the Death Master File, meanwhile, can sometimes take years, financially devastating those involved.
"As many news reports have accounted, incorrect death reports have created severe personal and financial hardship for those who are erroneously listed as deceased," said U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson of Texas in February, announcing a congressional hearing on the Death Master File's accuracy. "Those affected have experienced termination of benefits, rejected credit, declined mortgages and other devastating consequences, while their personal and private information is publicly exposed."
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It is my opinion that the Credit Bureaus are lying when they tell you they are "investigating" the matter, and this is why: the typical "investigation" involves contacting the entity that gave them the incorrect information in the first place, so the reply you get is that the information they have is correct, and you can't convince them otherwise. I battled with them to DELETE an inactive 15 year old, "paid in full never late" account that was being reported as CURRENT to no avail. I demanded to know how it was possible that Steinbach's, a company that went bankrupt nearly 20 years ago could possibly continue to keep my account “current”, and since they do not exist, who was giving information about it to the bureaus? The answer: we have no contacts or phone number we can give you, but the information stands as correct.
After many days of anger, frustration, and internet searches, I found an old article about a company in Ohio having purchased Steinbach’s accounts (paid up and unpaid). I called them up, and surely they had my records, but alas, they too refused to DELETE the account SINCE the merchant was out of business, because (they said) my account was in good standing. I tried to no avail to reason with them, asking if it was possible for me to use that card anywhere and make purchases. Of course not, they said, there is no more Steinbach’s store, so your credit card is useless; I agree, and that is precisely why I want you to delete it. No way. End result was that my contacting the Credit Bureaus re-started the whole thing all over again, and now I would have to wait at least 7 years before they would delete it as “old”. I was livid that I, the owner of that account had absolutely no saying concerning incorrect information on my file. It’s a racket!
The credit agencies are nothing but a scam anyway. I pay for everything in cash or save up enough until I can. I bought my house and my wife's car that way. It is SO much easier on the wallet to NOT pay overbearing interest fees.
I don't allow my life to be held hostage by credit agencies that only value people who are in debt.
I have the same first and last name as my mother, although with differing middle names. When my mother died, instead of her credit being cut off, it was all transferred to my credit report. I was not a signatory on any of my mother's accounts and all bills/invoices went to the lawyer handling her estate. However, bills that weren't paid while the estate was in probate were reported as late payments on MY credit.
It took considerable time, effort and expense to prove to the credit agencies that a-my mother and I were two separate individuals; b-my mother was deceased; and c-unless I had been an uncommonly precocious child, no one had granted me credit accounts 5-7 years BEFORE MY BIRTH.
What was first a reliance on computers has become a virtual enslavement to them. Humans aren't running the show anymore. All you are told is that 'the computer won't allow it'. The very definition of insanity.
YOU: I'm not dead.
CREDIT BUREAU: Yes he is.
YOU: No I'm not!
CREDIT BUREAU: Well he will be soon, he's very old.
YOU: I'm getting better.
CREDIT BUREAU: No you're not, you'll be stone dead in a moment!
These credit reporting agencies don't care whose lives they screw up. You can have all the wrong personal information on your reports and try to straighten that out, and they don't care. I found out through a check on the web that there was a person in my old hometown w/ my same first middle and last name it was eerie he even had one of my old phone numbers. The credit agencies had me all screwed up. Luckily I was able to rectify that situation, but they have had me all messed up on other things for years, like w/ medical bills and such. I think since the government seems to have their nose in everything else why can't they look into the way these credit reporting agencies ruin peoples lives. These agencies should also have more points of contact than just a letter you should be able to get someone on a phone. I guess they just don't want to listen to you telling them how bad they have just up your chances of getting that first house or car. I think everyone needs a chance and they ruin hopes and dreams for a lot of hard working people that deserve a chance to have some credit.
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