Woman Has Struggled to Prove She's Not Dead for 16 Years

A 2007 error by the Social Security Administration upended a Missouri woman's life
By Gina Carey,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 28, 2023 1:07 PM CDT
For Over 16 Years, Woman Has Tried to Prove She's Still Alive
An accounting error in 2007 upended woman's life.   (Getty / stu99)

A Missouri woman mistakenly added to the Social Security Administration's master death list in 2007 has been trying to prove she's very much alive for the past 16 years. Per NBC News, Madeline-Michelle Carthen, now 52, first found out about the accounting error when she was a business technology student applying for financial aid to attend an intern exchange program in Ghana. At first she laughed, she told NBC, but her questions began to stack up quickly. "I said, 'What do you mean? I'm sitting right here. I've been at school over a year and a half. How am I dead? Is this going to affect my international internship?'"

School officials told Carthen she had to withdraw from her program until the matter was sorted out, and advised her to contact the SSA. The SSA recognized the error and provided her with a "death erroneous letter" to show creditors, but Carthen's problems only started to snowball from there. According to NBC affiliate KSDK in St. Louis, once a person is added to the master death list, groups like the IRS, Medicare, and banks are notified. This makes getting a new job turn into a game of whack-a-mole. "Sometimes I can get a job and then within so many months, there's going to be a problem," Carthen said. "So it's like I can get it and then it's yanked back from me. But I don't know when it's going to be yanked back."

Being declared dead has cost Carthen jobs after HR couldn't add her to payroll, vehicles that were repossessed, and housing. She now lives with her sister. "It messed up my whole life," Carthen said. "It's impacted my life financially. If I wanted to buy a house, that won't happen." KSDK has covered her case over the years and is working with her to find a solution. According to the outlet, over 12,000 people are mistakenly declared dead every year, and obtaining one's credit report is the first step to correcting it. (More Social Security stories.)

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