BALTIMORE (WJZ) — When one woman discovered that her bank account had emptied overnight she soon found out that was the least of her problems.
She had been “declared dead”, and that was only the beginning of her nightmare.
Imagine waking up one day to find your bank account empty. You know it’s wrong, but when you try to fix it, the bank says “you’re dead,”.
“I freaked,” Ellen said.
Ellen Baron is a retired social worker who lives in Crofton. She is just one of more than 7,000 people a year who are very much alive when someone mistakenly declares them dead. This sets off a chain reaction you are powerless to fix, until somebody declares you are alive again.
“I said, ‘Show me where I am dead, show me a death certificate,'” Baron said.
Baron said her panic grew when she called the fraud line at Bank America the next morning.
“We got a letter from the Social Security Administration saying that you were dead,” She said the bank teller said. “I said, ‘Oh that’s very interesting, I am very much alive, now what do I do?'”
The bank told Baron she must go to the Social Security Administration and prove that she is alive.
“I said- ‘What do I do now?’ They acted like they had no clue,” Baron said. “She said, ‘Usually we have a death certificate but I don’t see anything here, there must have been a key error,’ I said, ‘What does that mean,’ She said ‘Someone got something wrong,’ I said, ‘Oh really?'”
For people like Ellen Baron, one giant mistake immediately multiplies and it happens fast. By this time, her bank account had been frozen, her pharmacy plan canceled, Medicare benefits ceased, Blue Cross Blue Shield is dropped, and the state asks for her last pension check since it went out after she was declared dead.
Without insurance or health benefits she can’t go to her doctor’s appointments.
So how does this happen to people? WJZ reached out to the Social Security Administration, but they refused to be interviewed, instead, they sent an email.
The email says in part, “Approximately 2.8 million deaths are reported to the Social Security Administration each year and our records are highly accurate. Of these millions of death reports we receive each year, less than 7,400 (less than one-third of one percent) are subsequently corrected. Deaths are reported to Social Security primarily from states, but also from family members, funeral homes and financial institutions,”
But that doesn’t necessarily answer the question, how was Ellen Barron declared dead?
She said she’s worried it will happen again. For Ellen, it was back to the SSA to get the problem fixed for good.
“I said, ‘You did this, you undo it, I’m not putting out fires everywhere that you created,'”
“When someone has a problem, come to your congressional office and we’ll do whatever we can to service our constituents,” said Rep. Dutch Rupperesberger (D-2nd District).
“The reason I’ve been wanting to draw attention to this is to try and prevent this from happening to other people. The system had to be fixed,” Barron said. “It could happen to anybody, it could happen to you,”