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Consumer Alert

Bringing the dead back to life

Q. I’m in very desperate need of help. As you can see, I’m very much alive, but according to my friend, who is a mortgage broker, I’m deceased. I have been unable to obtain any copies of my credit reports, which is unfortunate, because I have found a house that I want to purchase. You can’t get your credit report when it says you’re dead. Can you please help me?

A. It’s probably not much comfort, but you’re hardly alone when it comes to being declared dead. The Social Security Administration reported that it erroneously includes about 14,000 living people in its death index each year. Being dead on credit reports is usually caused by simple human error.

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When your spouse died, your bank apparently noted that you, too, had passed. So, I reached out to the folks at TransUnion — one of the three major credit reporting bureaus — and asked if they could investigate your case and bring you back to life.

TransUnion reports that you are alive again in the credit world. When a spouse dies, it’s important to request both a copy of the deceased’s credit report as well as your own, just to make sure everything was properly reported, said Clifton O’Neal, a TransUnion vice president.

If the spouse finds an error, they should file a dispute. You can do that by mail, phone, or online. “By doing it online, you can monitor the process and resolution of it,” he said.

Getting to the bottom of where the error was made is usually the easy part. Getting them to correct it can involve a lot of time and effort. Using the credit bureaus, as O’Neal suggested, gives you a formal process to correct a mistake. Federal law allows a company 30 days to correct an error made on a consumer’s credit report. Be sure to get resurrected in the databases of all three major credit bureaus — TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax.

Obviously, it can be maddening to have to fix a problem that was no fault of your own — especially given the circumstances under which it happened. But welcome back.

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers for two decades. He also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. Mitch can be reached at Consumer News@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka
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