The L.A. Times’ David Lazarus has the story of a 70-year-old who was in the process of buying some property when he found out that one of his credit reports had him listed as deceased.
Furthermore, he had an 81-year-old widow he’d never met, along with information regarding her credit card payment history on his report.
It was just as confusing for his unwitting widow, who tells Lazarus she had been getting mail for this man she’d never heard of before.
Obviously he wasn’t dead and these two people hadn’t been wed. But finding out how this happened and getting it resolved was a lot more complicated than it should have been.
“It’s almost a full-time job unraveling these mistakes,” a rep for the advocacy group Consumer Action tells Lazarus.
Realizing that he was not the victim of ID theft — unless you’ve heard of an identity thief who fraudulently obtains a credit card and then responsibly pays the bill every month — so he contacted Equifax but could not get an explanation.
His not-widow tried speaking to Bank of America about the screw-up but was told that this mystery man had the same Social Security Number as her late husband, which doesn’t make sense as this probably would have come up at some point in the last five or six decades. The only thing her actual late husband shares with this still-breathing man is an incredibly common first name.
When Lazarus tried to speak to Equifax about the problem, it passed him off to a trade group, the Consumer Data Industry Association.
“Large databases wrestle with a variety of challenges,” explained the head of CDIA with the kind of we-don’t-actually-give-a-hoot attitude everyone expects from the credit reporting industry. “We have marriages and divorces. People are moving. Data can change for a variety of reasons.”
We’ve written before about the approximately 14,000 zombies created every year by mistakes on the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File. It can be something as simple as a funeral home director transposing a couple of digits on a death notice provided to the SSA.
It’s not known if that’s what happened here, but it seems more likely that this was an error on Equifax’s end since neither TransUnion nor Experian considered the man dead and married.
Even in the case where the problem does appear to be limited to one credit bureau, the CDIA rep suggests talking to all three bureaus just to make sure your dotted and crossed all the letters that need to be dotted and/or crossed.
Luckily, the not-dead man convinced underwriters of his lack of deadness and was able to buy that home he’d been purchasing when this whole problem came to light.