How Do You Prove You’re Not Dead?

Continuing our foray into the consumer macabre, a reader complains about being dead.

Dallas paid off her JCPenney card balance of $934.98 and closed her account in 2001.

In 2005, she got a letter from TSYS Total Debt Management Inc addressed to her estate. The letter said TSYS was very sorry for her passing but they really needed $934.98 . When she contacted TSYS, they said they had accidentally sent similar letters out to many JCPenney customers and Dallas should just ignore the letter.

Last week, she went to get a mortgage but was unable to. Dallas was dead. Or at least, as far as the bank was concerned, because all three credit bureaus listed her as deceased.

Dallas says she has tried contacting the credit bureaus but they won’t help her, because she’s dead. Both TSYS and JCPENNEY/CHASE GE Money Bank acknowledge their error, but won’t assist her in clearing up the report.

Ask The Consumerists: how do you prove to the credit bureaus that you’re not dead?

(P.S. Check your credit report once a year.)


Edit Your Comment

  1. timmus says:

    OK, that picture is creepy. It’s a good thing I pulled up this picture at 9 am and not 9 pm.

  2. Metschick says:

    That’s a good question. It’s easy to prove someone’s dead: just present the DC. But how do you prove you’re alive?

  3. Can she get anything in writing from TSYS and JCPENNEY/CHASE GE Money Bank?

    Is the bank she’s trying to get the mortgage from the same one she has her regular acocunts with? Because if she’s alive enough to keep her existing accounts with them why isn’t she alive enough to get a mortgage?

  4. pdxguy says:

    I’m not surprised at this kind of error. TSYS is part of TCS which is Tata Consulting Services, a leading India-based information technology services company (aka “off-shorer”). Chase Card Services, which has 100’s of cards including private lable ones and ones which they have acquired from other companies, uses TSYS for alot of their work.

  5. AcilletaM says:

    According to this article, you need to dispute the account information like you would dispute any other inaccuracy. Hey, look at that, Chase Bank is being stupid in this article too. This one also dicsusses a similar event but doesn’t go into the full resolution. The theme that ties these articles together? Lawsuits.

    The Motley Fool says this can be fixed by addressing the credit report issues. It lists several steps.

    In any of those cases, good luck.

  6. Savage says:

    Perhaps it’s time to take the opportunity of being dead and take a vacation abroad.

  7. Triteon says:

    Check your credit report once a year.
    For “perpetually free” reports, run each company’s (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion) report on a rotating basis– one in January, another in May, the third in September (for example.) Just note that all 3 reports are not always in synch, but this schedule gives you a decent chance of finding fraud without the expense of buying reports (i.e. the 3-in-1 report).
    But if you believe you’re the victim of fraud or ID theft get them all right now! Voice of experience, signing off…

  8. RandomHookup says:

    Sounds like my experience in the Army…if you ever wanted to really screw someone up, report them “deceased” in the personnel system. Done by more than one clerk on his way to the discharge point.

  9. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    I’ve gotten another free report from the same company before the one year period is up… Jackpot!

  10. 44 in a Row says:

    I love when life imitates Catch-22.

  11. GenXCub says:

    Get your not-dead buns to the corporate office of Transunion, Experian, and Equifax and eat a few brains… that proves you’re undead.

  12. laurenl842 says:

    The same thing happened to a good friend of mine. She and her husband went to get their mortgage and SURPRISE! They tell her that she is dead. They even argued with her for a week over it and refused to believe that it was a mistake. They couldn’t get the problem resolved in time, so her husband had to purchase the home only in his name.

    Turns out her ex-husband told AmEx that she was dead when they wouldn’t stop making collection calls. They never verified the information and years later it came to bite her. I guess it never occured to her that something was amiss when AmEx stopped harassing her, but that’s a different story for a different day.

  13. kwd says:

    Is it possible to sue the companies for slander? I mean they are claiming you are something that you are not. Just a thought.

  14. Ass_Cobra says:

    This is a huge issue with Credit Bureaus, they accept what ever information their subscribers throw at them without verification. I’m not even sure that they do sampling on the data to perform quality control.

    I used to work with a guy that was hired to generate basically a proprietary FICO score based on credit bureau data. The project was abandoned as the data was inconsistent and generally of poor quality.

  15. He says:

    Could be worse. My recent report listed my brother as my spouse. Frankly, I’d rather be dead.

  16. OnoSideboard says:

    If Dallas has any outstanding school loans, I’d suggest she forget about the mortgage and thank the baby jesus.

  17. Spiny Norman says:

    Considering the season, a trip to Transunion or Equifax in full zombie regalia could be most appropriate and hilarious. Just watch out for the guy with the 1974 Ford Fairlane and the chainsaw.

  18. kerry says:

    OnoSideboard – I had a friend in college who went off his meds, faked his own death and then lived on the street for a year or two after graduation to avoid paying his student loans. I wonder whatever happened to him.

  19. OnoSideboard says:

    Kerry – he’s probably on a beach in South America, sipping a cocktail with a tiny umbrella in it, while I’m trying to bill 2400 hours/year to make the minimum payments on my six-figure college + law school debt.

  20. Martin says:

    There are a number of laws that protect consumers in these types of cases, including the federal fair credit reporting act and the credit reporting act of your state.

    She should find a consumer lawyer at and hire him/her to send a letter to each credit bureau disputing the notation and demanding that it be remedied.

    My experience is that credit bureaus ignore consumer dispute letters, but they seem to respond almost immediately to letters from lawyers….

  21. Trai_Dep says:

    Damn zombies. Give them a JC Penny card and they think they’re entitled to just as many rights as the rest of us…

  22. bones says:

    Sue JC Penny and Chase for actual damages (loss of the house, attorneys, phone calls) and emotional distress. You have a multi-million dollar case, cash in.

  23. aixwiz says:

    Proving to a bank that you are not dead is easy; stand on top for the loan officers desk and piss on it.

  24. Mary Marsala with Fries says:

    Yup, go Martin and bones — Hire an attorney to send them letters, etc. until they fix it, and then sue the crap out of them for the loss of the house, the attorney fees, your time (always track the time you spend fixing these things, since you can genuinely sue to be reimbursed for it), etc.

    The day you win your lawsuit, make eye contact with the executive you dealt with in court whom you liked least and deliver the coup: “Not bad for a dead person, eh?”

  25. If I claim I am dead to the credit bureaus, could I still use my existing credit cards?

  26. econobiker says:

    Maybe go off the grid and get a Federal Tax ID or however most illegal aliens get by and she’ll be up in running with good credit in under a year (smirk)…