Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Help Me Howard: Not Dead
Waking up to find out you are dead is normally a line in a sarcastic joke. But one South Florida man was told he was dead. That was funny to him. Trying to straighten it out has become the nightmare. How do you correct a terrible mistake? It's why he called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- In 1965, James Susman was in the Army, on leave in New York, when he was set up on a blind date with a woman named Lynne.
James Susman, Alive and Well: "And my first date with her was to the World Fair, and we saw Barbara Streisand and 'Funny Girl.'"
Two years later, they got married, had three kids, a nice life, with the inevitable hurdles.
James Susman, Alive and Well: "She had breast cancer years ago, which she beat, had surgery and recovered."
Lynne beat back breast cancer. But then, lung cancer crept in.
James Susman, Alive and Well: "And it got worse and worse, and she spent the last 30 days in intensive care unit."
After Lynne passed away in 2008, James did the little things a grieving spouse does, like cancelling their joint credit cards.
James Susman, Alive and Well: "She passed away, I don't need the card, she's not here anyway, it's not going to be used, get rid of it."
James moved on. But little did he know, a company that had cancelled their credit card on paper had killed him.
James Susman, Alive and Well: "When they canceled it, they used my social security number, even though it was my wife that passed away, and I was reported as deceased."
Now if a company decides you are dead, and you can stand there breathing to hear about it, you can laugh.
James Susman, Alive and Well: "I thought it was funny at first. Well obviously, I'm not dead. I'll just call somebody, 'Hey, you made a mistake.' Doesn't work like that. If they got it in writing that I'm dead, then I'm dead."
That's because the reports of James' death were turned over to the credit bureaus, and when James decided to re-finance his house, being declared dead was no longer funny.
James Susman, Alive and Well: "I still can't do anything on credit. I mean, I can't do anything, and in this world, you need credit, and especially since I'm retired."
James contacted the credit bureaus, sent them letters. They said they would correct the problem.
James Susman, Alive and Well: "And I waited and waited, and I get the letter back from the other company there that says, 'Nope, you're still deceased.'"
For two years, James kept trying to convince the companies that he was alive and well. For two years, got nowhere, learning being dead is tough when you are living.
James Susman, Alive and Well: "Yes, frustrating. I'm very much alive, and I promise I have all sorts of documents to prove that I'm me."
Well Howard, being declared dead makes for an interesting story to tell your friends. But legally, how do you stop a business from doing this to you?
Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, both the credit bureaus and the companies that made the mistake are required to fix their errors within 45 days of receiving a complaint. James has waited months and months. He could sue them, and no doubt he will win, just by showing up and proving he is alive."
James' credit card company did not return several calls from us.
But techincally, James is once again alive and well, thanks to the credit bureaus that stepped in.
One credit reporting agency told us when the lender mistakenly reports the card holder is deceased, the person should dispute it with the lender, and it should be corrected with little difficulty.
James, of course, begs to differ. But now, his credit reports show that he is alive, and in fact one credit bureau now shows him with their highest credit score.
Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "Check your credit reports. Every person can do it for free once a year. Do it even if you don't think there are mistakes, because that's how you find out your identity has been stolen, credit cards have been opened in your name, or in rare cases, you have been declared dead."
When we met James, he was alive and well. Now fortunately, the credit bureaus realize that as well and are letting him know.
James Susman, Alive and Well: "Started calling me, apologizing for the mix-up, the bad information, on my report promised to correct it immediately, and then I got copies in the mail, and it was being corrected within a week of talking to you. It's amazing."
Patrick Fraser: "Cats have nine lives. James now is on his second. And if you have a problem like this with a company and don't get it resolved, ask to speak to a supervisor. Keep moving up the chain. Just yesterday, I got an email from a guy that the federal government had declared dead. When you are dealing with the feds, it's best to contact your congressman. They can cut through the bureaucracy. Bottom line: don't give up, and if all else fails, contact us."
Fear solutions to your problem are dead on arrival? Wanna breathe life into it? Contact us. We don't want credit of cash, just your satisfaction.
CONTACT HELP ME HOWARD:
EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org (Please include your contact phone number when emailing)
REPORTER: Patrick Fraser at email@example.com