When Your Bank Says You're Dead, But You're Demonstrably Alive

Poor Madeline Coburn. She’s not dead, but her credit is. A mix up at her bank and a mysterious phone call led to her being listed as dead.

She’s not, but now she can’t get credit for anything. The trouble started when she closed an account with her bank. The bank listed her as dead and then sold the information to “an outside agency” From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Coburn said she then contacted the agency and was told someone had called an old phone number of hers to update her information. Someone who answered the phone said that he was a relative and that Coburn had died in November.

Yeah, that was just some guy who had her old phone number and wanted to get the weirdo who was calling him at dinner off the phone. Sigh.

You’d think this would be easy to clear up? Nope. Madeline walks around with a stack of emails from her bank and other agencies crying out for help. She’s tried the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and 14 other federal and state agencies. She’s had to drop out of school because her loans have been cut off. She hasn’t got any money for a lawyer to prove she’s alive, and she can’t borrow… well, you get the idea. Poor thing.

Anyone want to take her case? She’s in St. Louis. Listen for the sound of tears. —MEGHANN MARCO

False report of death puts woman’s life on hold [St. Louis Post-Dispatch] (Thanks, Ian!)
(Photo: cmorran123)


Edit Your Comment

  1. mikyrok says:

    At least she wont have to pay taxes if she’s dead.

  2. B says:

    Also, if she moves to Chicago, she can still vote.

  3. Falconfire says:

    So much for technology making lives better. The Tech might be making it better, but the morons running it are still stupid as dogshit

    wait I take that back, Im dont want to be giving the bacteria on dogshit a bad name.

  4. RetroChristal says:

    Getting anything fixed on your credit report is a never ending struggle. My parents were the victims of idenity theft twice in the past 3 year (thanks Arvest Bank and credit card companies sending statements to a homeless shelter!). By the time the found out about the credit card it had been sold to a creditor, and once they get everything straightend out it was sold AGAIN to another creditor. Who keeps calling and asking for the money despite the notes on their credit report, and all kinds of documentation.

    I can’t even get an incorrect address corrected, which should be something very simple. The system is broken, and it seems like there’s nothing we can do to fix it.

  5. jrlcopy says:

    Time to commit muder…..mwhahaha

  6. Scazza says:

    @mikeyrock: @B: LOL

  7. mantari says:

    Even this will not persuade me from saying, “[pause] [weak voice] He died last week. [uncomfortable silence]” when receiving unwanted phone calls. But even that is rare nowadays.

    Again, my list to NOT receiving telephone calls without being on the do-not-call registry:

    1] Get a virgin telephone number. (Like from a new local telco or voip service.) Something that some idiot hasn’t already spread to the winds.

    2] Get a voice message system that has a different number. I believe k7.net and other sites still offer these for free.

    3] Give the voice mail # to any company that will not have an urgent need to speak to you on the phone then and there. (95% of any company you deal with.)

    4] On the rare chance that an unwanted person calls for you, or anyone else on your home phone, tell them you died (see above).

    5] Delight that even pushy charities and political groups do not call.

  8. Pelagius says:

    This woman needs a pro-bono attorney. I imagine that First Bank has some pretty deep pockets.

  9. IC18 says:

    This is why I gave up on the whole credit system a long time ago.

  10. MeanMachine says:

    “Don’t cry for me. I’m already dead.”

    -Barney Gumble, episode 121

  11. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    This woman needs to get her local news outlets on this STAT. I don’t know about you all, but here in DC we have a couple “..On Your Side” reporters that dig into issues like this and demand answers. I’m positive that some attorney would offer to take her case Pro Bono in exchange for the publicity he/she would receive.

    The media is there for a reason – use it! Get the word out now, and start getting advocates digging around for you!!!

  12. netbrad42 says:

    I think I saw this on The Cosby Show once. Since she’s “dead”, she should go to her insurance company and make a claim on her life insurance policy. I can’t remember how the episode ended though.

  13. Nytmare says:

    It seems a bank only needs a whiff of “(s)he died” to put a hold on the accounts. But there’s no excuse for passing such tentative info along to third parties.

  14. shiny says:

    If this were Bank of America, at least they’d let her, as a dead woman, access her safe deposit box posthumously…

  15. enm4r says:

    So the bank “sold the info to an agency” who then just called up a number, heard she was dead, and has now engraved that into stone? It seems like the right conversation with the right person at “the agency” while asking them to provide proof/death certificate, etc, would be enough to reverse this, no? Hard to believe so many people are involved and this is not resolved. Major press would solve it me thinks.

    It’s amazing how worthless these processes are, and whether or not they were intentionally designed that way, they are there to effectively stomp on the individual. Unbelievable.

  16. Buran says:

    @RetroChristal: Use the FDCPA to get them to stop. Send them a written letter and they can’t contact you anymore. Furthermore, state that you refuse to pay on a debt that is not yours. They HAVE to stop bothering you. If they do not, you can sue them for harassment and illegally attempting to collect on a debt you do not owe.

  17. jaewon223 says:

    I would go along with the suggestion of contacting local media. This is news worthy I bet to make it and probably a lot cheaper than trying to hire a lawyer to help you.

  18. Jiminy Christmas says:

    The problem is that you, the subject of the erroneous information, are not really the customer of the agency which is propagating the errors. Their customers are the banks or whatever other institutions which buy the information. Of course, they want accurate information too but it’s not quite as important to them as it is to you. There needs to be some way for individuals to have an ownership stake in their information.

  19. TechnoDestructo says:


    Seriously. She’s dead, what are they going to do to her? Give her a DEATH SENTENCE?

  20. TechnoDestructo says:


    That isn’t pro bono, that’s contingency. Pro bono is working for free.

  21. TechnoDestructo says:

    Oh, oh, does this qualify as libel? Because then she could go after the bank AND the credit reporting agencies!


  22. B says:

    @TechnoDestructo: They punctuated this all wrong. It should say “Works on Contingency? No, Money down!” Oh, and that bar logo shouldn’t be there.

  23. timmus says:

    What sucks is not so much that it’s hard to fix the credit issue, but that it’s impossible to find an affordable attorney. The system is definitely broken.

  24. Lordstrom says:

    This sounds like a MASSIVE lawsuit. When a bank error ruins a person’s life, no one in their right mind can not hold the bank responsible. I should think lawyers would be all over this.

  25. magic8ball says:

    Serious question: does the IRS believe that she is alive, or dead? And if they think she’s dead, what do they do about her tax returns? And if they don’t think she’s dead, could that help her convice other institutions that she’s not dead?

  26. coreyander says:

    Yet another reason why Congress should revisit FICO and make sure that it takes the civil rights of citizens into account instead of simply pandering to financial institutions. I can only imagine the frustration and anguish that this woman is experiencing at the lack of legal recourse that is available to her.

    Hiring a lawyer should not be necessary to fix a clerical error of such an enormous magnitude. At the absolute most, it should require a notary (for which the consumer is reimbursed if the complaint is found to be valid), govt issued ID, and maybe a photocopier.

  27. coreyander says:

    @coreyander: ha, ha… FCRA, not FICO

  28. rexforever says:

    I work for a financial company in a fraud department. People do get mistakenly reported as dead. This is kind of hard to argue. I’m not dead! Yeah ok…

    Anyways, she needs to contact the U.S. Social Security Administration and the credit bureaus to get this corrected. It’s not just the bank that thinks she’s dead – it is the credit bureaus and the government. That’s who her bank reported it to. The SSN Commission’s phone number is 1-800-772-1213. She can call Transunion (a credit bureau) at 1-800-680-7289)

  29. eldergias says:

    Legally, I cannot condone committing criminal acts. However, hypothetically speaking, if you were to commit a criminal act and the government put ANYTHING on your record about it or arrested you, it would show that the government acknowledges that you are alive. And that is exactly what the founder of “The Association of the Dead” did in India:


    He was legally declared dead, so he did everything he could to fight it. No one would arrest him because it would mean acknowledging he was alive. It seems this is a real problem in India due to corruption. It ends well however, in the end he got his life back, and now he fights to get other people declared alive too.

  30. eldergias says:

    @lorddave: Agreed. Looks like the bank has a new owner… a dead one.

  31. Jesse in Japan says:

    Why the hell is it that when it’s a cell phone company or an ISP, they make a relative send in a notarized copy of the death certificate before they actually believe that somebody is dead so that they can cut off service, but when it’s a bank and you want credit, some guy over the phone can just make you officially dead?

  32. JDAC says:

    Thanks for the pic, I did wonder what had happened to Mary Fraser Ladson. Guess I’m not getting that fifty back now…

  33. shdwsclan says:

    Ahh…the sweet smell of capitalism at work….
    Capitalism…works…in theory…..in theory….

  34. apeguero says:

    She should just become an illegal allien and get on with her life. She’ll live better that way with a bunch of free benefits…

  35. reemsree says:

    How many times have we as AMERICANS changed our phone number for what ever reason. Sometimes we notify all of whom we choose to and others we dont.

    I don’t think that she is trying to get out of DEBT or anything to that nature. My question is “Why haven’t the creditor(s) called back to the first orginal number to receive more answers.” How often do you go in to your local branch office? The EMPLOYEE(S)do they know you by name or face? You would think that the bank would put up some type of stink considering she deals with them on a regular basis. SO HOW DO U REALLY COME BACK FROM THE DEAD?