Alive person marked dead; scam or government mixup?
October 19, 2011 5:58 PM   Subscribe

Should we be worried that Social Security thinks my husband is dead even though he isn't?

We got a letter from our mortgage lender addressed to my husband's "estate". The letter stated that they had received notice of his death. Amused and alive, he called them up and was told that Social Security had notified them of his death and that he needs to go to the courthouse to get proof of his not being dead.

I'm sure this is not a rare question but am having trouble finding info online. Is this probably just a case of mishandled paperwork, or is it likely part of some sort of scam? Is there anything we should do beyond going to SS to get it straightened out on their end? Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
SS has a master death file (!) which lists decedents by ss number. I'd go straight to SS first and get it sorted out; it doesn't sound like any scam I've heard of, if anything I guess it would be life insurance. But it's probably just a ghastly mistake.
posted by clockzero at 6:11 PM on October 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Absolutely give Social Security a call (1-800-772-1213). I don't have anything else to provide, but I do know I had to call them a couple of month's ago to report my father's death (and stop his medicaid and social security payments). Call first thing tomorrow morning.
posted by raztaj at 6:11 PM on October 19, 2011

I would definitely get a credit check, his identity may have been stolen by someone to use if for medical, then died in the facility. After attempting to get SS to tell you how they were told of the "death", call up all your local hospitals and find out if there are any outstanding bills in his name (that aren't actually his). If you are able to get information from SS, call the hospitals in the area where the "death" was reported.

Beware though, ridiculously enough, if his identity was stolen for medical reasons, it will be a huge mess to straighten out and he might have difficulties getting medical records for a while. It's a HIPAA violation if you are given information about someone else, even if they used your name and SS#.
posted by yb2006shasta at 6:13 PM on October 19, 2011

I had something similar happen to me, only I wasn't declared dead. However, they had my date of birth wrong, and it was that way my entire childhood, somehow, and it never caused a problem until I turned 18, got a job and started filing W4s and doing my taxes. I had to get my original birth certificate and go in person to the Social Security Administration, start a correction which took several months to complete, and now it's all good.

Don't even bother calling the SSA, just go straight to your nearest branch office and bring all forms of ID with you. Their phone system is worse than useless for this kind of problem and the wait times can be outrageous.
posted by slow graffiti at 6:27 PM on October 19, 2011

Seconding not to call, just to go in. My hyphen was dropped from my SS record and it was enough to keep me from filing my taxes on time one year (the IRS rejected the filing.) Tell your husband to bring a certified copy of his birth certificate and at least one picture ID.

Oh, and rural offices are often way less busy than urban ones, if that's an option for you.
posted by SMPA at 6:40 PM on October 19, 2011

I know of someone who had this problem (funny story actually, he told a credit card telemarketer that the person they were calling for had died just so they would stop calling....bad plan) and it was absolutely "an issue" in his finances/credit cards/banking. I would aim to take care of it as soon as possible. Knowing the mess this caused him, I'd aim to take care of it very soon, and probably in person at Social Security Administration with roughly every piece of id you own. You can probably head off a lot of the potential problems by correcting the error before it gets too far.
posted by mjcon at 6:44 PM on October 19, 2011

You should also check with your state's official vital records office, and possibly your local county/parish health department. If he has been reported as dead, he may not be able to vote, among other problems.
posted by ES Mom at 6:53 PM on October 19, 2011

I had the same problem as slow graffiti, except mine got corrected faster. Guess I was lucky.

Yes, go in person. Worth getting a credit report (you get several yearly between all of the various credit agencies) to check that they still think he's alive, too.
posted by nat at 7:05 PM on October 19, 2011

It may be too early, but you can try searching the SSA's death index. The official site costs money, but you can do a free search at any of a number of sites.
posted by wnissen at 7:51 PM on October 19, 2011

Definitely go in person. Social Security is pretty touchy about fraud issues, so you're going to want to get this cleared up as quickly as possible.
posted by valkyryn at 3:05 AM on October 20, 2011

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