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Hospital discharge error threatens women's credit

May 11, 2012 Walt Wojciechowski

According to a recent report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) mistakenly incorporates approximately 14,000 living individuals into its Master Death File every year, GoBankingRates reports. This is the equivalent of 38 false deaths per day. The Star-Ledger explains that this can happen for multiple reasons. First, a credit bureau can mistakenly mark a "deceased indicator" if it's believed an account is associated with an individual who has passed. The second way is if a person's Social Security number has been reported to the SSA as deceased. While this may be slightly alarming to see for alive individuals, the bigger issue is what happens to their consumer credit reports as a result. "Erroneous death entries can lead to benefit termination, cause severe financial hardship and distress to affected individuals, and result in the publication of living individuals' [personal identifying information] in the [Death Master File]," the OIG stated, as quoted by GoBankingRates. The Star-Ledger points to one specific example of the complications that can arise from a false death. Eighty-one-year-old Somerset, New Jersey, resident Bea Cohen was admitted to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick for heart surgery in 2004, and was discharged to a rehab facility shortly after. However, when Cohen looked over her discharge papers, she found that the hospital stated "deceased" as the reason for her release. Two years later, after being denied for a Target credit card because of her deceased status, Cohen contacted one of the "Big Three" credit reporting agencies, Equifax, to take care of the situation. However, when Cohen attempted to refinance her mortgage in 2007, she was once again denied because credit checks showed she was deceased. "It showed that I was deceased," Cohen told the news source. "We appeared at the bank and everyone chuckled since Bea Cohen was there." Four years later, Cohen attempted to obtain a Best Buy credit card to purchase a computer. For the third time, she was denied because the credit bureau declared her dead. The issue reared its ugly head again when Cohen applied for credit with her dentist for an expensive procedure. It turned out that while TransUnion and Experian had corrected the mishap, it still existed in Equifax's record. While the problem was eventually rectified, Cohen's situation is one example of how a medical record error can negatively affect one's credit for years.