I have been declared deceased for 15 months and it has financially destroyed me – seeking constructive advice
Hello, Redditors. Long time lurker, first time posting to the sub. I’ve seen some great advice given here over the years so I’m looking for a little of my own…
My father lived with us for the last 17 years of his life. In this time, he had cancer, heart attacks, bypass operations, and survived three ruptured aneurysms (amazing!). Sadly, on Thanksgiving of 2017 the fourth time took him from us. Only weeks earlier, my sister and only sibling, unexpectedly passed away as well. My mother passed when I was a young child, so in the course of a few weeks I lost all that was left of my family. It was a remarkably difficult time, and my children were dealing with the immense loss of their “Papa,” a man who had been such an important influence in their daily lives.
My father and I have the same name and address (as he lived with us) but clearly different SS# and DOB. However, when he died a consumer reporting agency declared me deceased as opposed to him, then shared that erroneous information with other reporting agencies and notified Social Security that I was deceased (all major bureaus immediately report deceased consumers to SS to prevent fraud. Medical examiners/coroners also do the same).
I am a very financially responsible consumer. I maintained a three months of expenses “soft savings” as well as a six months “hard savings.” I rarely carried credit card debt, and everything I have built for my family and I came of my own hard work. My father’s health took a serious toll on his financial position in retirement. My sister was a wonderful woman, but her financial resources were barely enough to get by. When they passed away, my soft savings went to cover funeral expenses and family travel or the services. At the time I thought “That’s OK. I will work hard and rebuild the soft savings. It was worth every penny.”
Then came the death blow. When I was declared deceased, I could no longer travel, which was required for me to work. I hired great legal representation and was assured that it would be corrected fairly quickly. How wrong that was. I was declared deceased a total of three times, each time with a different date of death. I won’t droll on too long, but consumers should know something about The Fair Credit Reporting Act, the principle mechanism for protecting consumers from such errors: The FCRA states that a consumer data reporting agency MUST verify the accuracy of the information it posts to a consumer’s record. However, there is one MAJOR shortcoming that essentially causes the act to provide no consumer protection. If a consumer reporting agency receives data from another consumer reporting agency, they are under no obligation to verify the accuracy of that information! None. So, agency A declares me deceased in error, and automatically shares that data with agencies B,C,D and so on. Only A was required to verify the accuracy of that information, so the error spreads at the speed of digital data and you can imagine the rest of the story from there. Additionally, many consumers believe that only coroners, medical examiners, and funeral homes report deaths to Social Security (to prevent fraud). While it is accurate that all of these entities do in fact report deaths to SS, so do consumer reporting agencies. The Social Security Administration acts as the gatekeeper when it comes to federal databases, so Agency A makes an error, spreads that error to other agencies, and notifies SS, the federal gatekeeper, of your death. Welcome to life without a valid driver’s license or passport. Welcome to life without access to credit markets. Welcome to the shell of a “life.”
Before this all played out, I had sold my home and purchased a new home. We were soon to close on the sale but now could not close on the purchase, as I was deceased. I had to force my family to live in a small RV, two adults, three kids and a dog, for 15 days until we could close. Within days of closing, I was declared deceased AGAIN. See, these agencies share information constantly. So, agency A clears and error, but then agency B reports the same error back. Because agency A is under no obligation to verify that information, as it was provided by agency B, agency A just applies that data to the consumer file. Then agency B clears the error, but agency A reports it right back again. It’s a never-ending cycle that leaves the consumer hanging in the wind. As of this writing, I am officially “alive.” However, some medical bills of my father’s estate are being reported as collections to my consumer reports, so my credit score is tanked and I am unable to borrow against the equity in my home. Additionally, because this left me unable to continue my work or gain employment (you cannot even pass the most basic of employment eligibility verifications!) my income was so reduced and my liquid capital evaporated, so no lender wants to touch me. This is devastating – since the age of 18 I was very diligent about my personal finances, and being in this situation….nobody looks at two decades of exemplary financial management. They look at the catastrophe that is the last year.
I have now burned through every penny of my savings, credit cards are nearly maxed out, and I have made cuts to living costs everywhere possible. I can no longer pay for health insurance coverage for my family and I, so we are uninsured and I am not taking my insulin. My wife is a wonderful woman and is working to help out, but her earning power is minimal, and that income simply cannot begin to weather the storm. I am making wood signs out of my garage for extra income (and they are beautiful….thank you dad for teaching me to be good with my hands!) and doing what I can to get our world back on track, but I’m simply out of money.
I would appreciate any advice or ideas I may not be thinking of here. It has been a brutally hard time, personally, and I still have not even had a chance to deal with my own losses, so I feel like maybe I’m so lost in it there’s just something I am not thinking of. I literally have no family but my own wife and children. My parents and sister are gone, all of my aunts and uncles have passed away, they are just all gone. My wife comes from very simple means; her parents are in their 60s and still barely make it day-to-day, so we do not have family capable of helping out.
To answer a few anticipated questions:
401(k) and Investment Account(s): All liquidated. My three month soft savings went to funeral expenses for my sister and father. My six month hard savings ran out in month 7, and I had significant costs on top of our monthly expenses fighting this battle. I was forced to slowly liquidate these accounts to keep my head above water and bills paid.
Lawsuits: Yes. Unfortunately, The Fair Credit Reporting Act really falls short of truly protecting the consumer. There are so many gaps it’s like a submarine with screen doors. There is simply no “windfall” to be had here. In fact, the language is very specific as to what data reporting agencies are and are not responsible for. The former is a short list, the latter a book.
Again, any advice would be greatly appreciated. Like I said, I have seen some folks give great advice here in the years I have been lurking on the sub. Hopefully there is genuinely just something I have not considered. Many thanks for the read and any helpful advice!