Bogus deaths are a real killer to victims

Government makes thousands of grave mistakes

 For Judy Rivers, being declared dead was the easy part.

"It was like going around in circles where you went," she said.

A few years ago, the federal government deemed the 58-year-old, dead. Life has been a hassle ever since.

"All of a sudden I couldn't get a credit card anywhere.  When this information gets into the financial system, it's like an octopus with tentacles, it goes everywhere, every credit card, every bank where you go you are then listed as dead," she told the Contact 5 Investigators.

What's happening to Judy Rivers is far from one grave mistake. The Contact 5 Investigators, along with our partners at the Scripps Howard News Service, compared three separate years' worth of federal death records. We discovered during 1998, 2008 & 2011 the Social Security Administration killed off nearly 32,000 living Americans by mistake.

At 91-years-old, Marion Franciosa, in Delray Beach, is among the thousands of walking dead. Franciosa was deemed dead by the Social Security Administration 5 years ago.

"It didn't seem right. Here I am alive and they have me down as dead. It don't make sense. I said 'gee, at this age, I should have so much trouble,' " she told the Contact 5 Investigators.

As a result of her dead status, Franciosa couldn't get an ID for years.

Three years and countless visits to the Social Security office later, Marion was finally resurrected.

A spokesperson with the Social Security Administration says mistaken deaths are the result of employee typing errors. In Marion's case, the agency confused Marion with her husband Mauro. He died January 23, 2006, the same day Social Security mistakenly buried his wife.

"They mixed us up," she said.

Consumer experts are raising the alarm over false death reports.

The master death database is accessible to anyone and lists personal information like names, dates of birth, even Social Security numbers. Experts warn this information, in the wrong hands, can really dig its victims 6 feet under.

"This is not an issue that's minor. This is an error that can cause serious financial harm to consumers when their identity is stolen and they have to spend, weeks, months, if not years trying to correct that information," said Carmen Balber, Washington Director for the nonprofit group Consumer Watchdog.

For Judy Rivers and Marion Franciosa, having their identities was not the problem, instead it was proving they're alive that turned into the real killer.

"It's very hard to prove you're alive when a paper says your dead," said Rivers.

Experts say if you're deemed dead, contact the Social Security Administration right away.  The longer you wait to fix the problem, the more problems you can have with credit and banking agencies.

To find out your living status click here.


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