By Bob Sullivan (MSNBC) Judy Rivers isn’t dead after all. And, as anyone who’s had a maddening run-in with the nation’s credit system would agree, her “resurrection” is miraculous.
Some loyal Red Tape readers might recall an August 2010 story we published on Rivers titled, “Hey banks: This woman is alive.” At the time, Rivers had fallen — or was pushed — into a credit system black hole. She was declared dead by someone, rendering her invisible to the nation’s lenders and other entities that rely on Social Security numbers for verification. She couldn’t open a bank account, write a check, use a credit card, get a loan or an apartment. In many cases, she couldn’t even apply for a job.
She was, by 21st century standards, dead. Or, in perhaps a more-apt description, she had become a credit zombie.
Rivers, who lives in Alabama outside Birmingham, became a mini-celebrity after we published her digital nightmare. “This woman is alive” was one of our most popular stories, and publications the world over retold Rivers’ tale. Even Reader’s Digest covered the story.
Her odyssey began in late 2010, when a bank told her its systems said she was dead – and had been for two years.
“This Social Security Number has been discontinued; the holder of this number was reported dead on August 3, 2008,” read a notice she was shown by a bank official. A check of her consumer report obtained from Chex Systems, which the bank had used to obtain that information, confirmed the error. It read, “number inactivated due to report of death.”
Chex Systems said it received the data directly from the Social Security Administration, but that agency told Rivers that she was alive and well, according to its data. She had the same experience with every other creditor and credit bureau she talked to. And there she remained for years, stuck in a Catch-22 despite her herculean efforts to find and correct the error.
As a result of her experience, Rivers became an advocate of credit zombies everywhere.