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What If The Government Thinks I'm Dead?

By Catherine Hodder, Esq. on September 12, 2022 9:02 AM

An Indiana man is fighting for his life despite being relatively healthy other than a few kidney problems. Since 2017, however, he has been fighting with the Internal Revenue Service to prove he is alive.

The problem started when he received an erroneous condolence letter from the Social Security Administration, which made a mistake by classifying him as deceased. This triggered the IRS to deny more than $10,000 in stimulus checks because they thought he was dead.

By some estimates, government or credit reporting agencies erroneously declare 12,000 -14,000 people dead each year.

Mistake by Social Security

If the SSA thinks you are dead, your name and Social Security number are entered into a "death master file." Once your information is in the database, you are no longer eligible to receive benefits. Therefore, any Social Security or disability payments stop.

You also lose Medicare coverage, which happened to a Texas woman mistakenly thought dead by the SSA.

Furthermore, banks and other lenders rely on the death master file, so they will freeze your accounts and not extend credit to you. And if the IRS thinks you are dead, you can't file tax returns or get refunds.

Funeral directors or family members report deaths to Social Security, but mistakes can occur when an agent types in the wrong Social Security number into the database. Once the mistake is made, it is hard to correct.

If Social Security Makes the Error

If you realize you are considered dead by the SSA, you immediately need to correct their error. These are the steps to take:

  • Visit your local Social Security office.
  • Bring an original form of identification such as a driver's license, passport, military record, or school or employee ID card.
  • Request an "Erroneous Death Case - Third Party Contact" letter.
  • Present that letter to banks, credit reporting bureaus, doctors, and insurance companies that believe you are dead

If a Credit Reporting Agency Makes the Error

When a credit reporting agency mistakenly records your death, it is called “death by credit bureau," and it creates a host of problems. It hurts your credit score and prevents you from borrowing money. You can get free credit reports from the three credit reporting agencies and contact them to correct the error. The agencies are:

How Will I Know If I Am Mistakenly Considered Dead?

The most obvious way is if you receive a letter from the Social Security office or your bank. That is how one Philadelphia woman found out. She received a letter from Wells Fargo forgiving her student loans due to her "death."

Another drastic way is if you are suddenly locked out of your bank accounts or can't use your credit cards.

Finally, if you notice that you are not receiving benefits such as Social Security checks, stimulus payments, or other government benefits, it may mean the government thinks you are dead.

If you are having difficulties getting the SSA, the IRS, or credit reporting agencies to fix the error, you should consult a consumer protection lawyer.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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