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2 Investigators: Woman Has To Prove Her Healthy Daughter Isn’t Dead To Claim Tax Refund

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(CBS) – Every year, thousands of people are mistakenly reported as dead even though they are not.

And as 2 Investigator Pam Zekman reports, the results can cause incredible complications for those who are still alive.

“It’s been very stressful both emotionally, financially,” says Laurie Villareal.

She’s talking about how the Social Security Administration said her daughter was deceased – an error that complicated the mother and daughter’s lives.

“Your living daughter is dead?” Zekman asks.

“My living, 15-year-old, well-and-kicking daughter is dead,” Villareal says.

The same thing happened to 78-year-old Jo Anne Metternich.

She found out when she and her daughter tried to open a joint account at PNC Bank.

“She ran a credit report, and she looked at me and she said, ‘This says you’re deceased,’ and I just sat there in shock,” Metternich says.

Steve Baker of the Federal Trade Commission says such errors can cause a host of problems for the people who are mistakenly classified as deceased.

“This could have really serious consequences for somebody, particularly at this time getting government benefits that they were relying on,” he says.

The FTC requires that credit bureaus correct mistakes in a timely fashion, and Experian did correct the Metternich mistake quickly, which was some relief for her. Still, she worried.

“My fear was that my other bank accounts … my pensions, the Social Security — would those be affected, would they stop my payments?” Metternich asks.

Records show 1,000 people a month are mistakenly listed as dead by the Social Security Administration.

An Inspector General’s report says these mistakes are a result of “inaccurate death reports or inaccurate data input.”

That’s what happened to Jasmine, Villareal’s daughter. They found out when her mother’s 2012 tax return, claiming Jasmine as a dependent, was rejected, effectively killing the family’s tax refund.

Villareal says: “I gave them everything. Fingerprints. Social Security, birth certificate, school records, everything.”

“I had to get out of school. I had to bring my ID, I had to bring everything, and they still didn’t believe her,” Jasmine says.

After more than a year, officials told the mother that someone with Jasmine’s name and birthdate had been reported to them as deceased.

Social Security says the mistake is fixed now, but Villareal is still waiting for that desperately needed tax refund.

“You’re dealing with more than just a little mistake. You’re dealing with peoples’ lives,” she says.

Metternich’s battle has just begun.

“What angers me so much is that these things happen and then it’s up to me to get it corrected,” she says.

Now Social Security and the Bank of America are blaming each other for the mistake that appeared on Metternich’s credit report.

As for the year long process in Jasmine’s case, a Social Security spokeswoman says, “Unfortunately, these things happen.”

She added: “We are constantly looking for ways to make these processes move faster, but some cases are more complicated than others.”

People who encounter errors or misinformation should visit their local field office with proof of identity, such as a current U.S. driver’s license or a U.S. passport.  You can also register for a Social Security account that gives access to your benefit information and the ability to fix errors. Click here for more information.

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