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12,200 Living Americans Declared Dead Every Year

Imagine the inconvenience and even the awfulness of being declared dead by the United States Government. Consider this true story. In August of 2010, communications specialist Judy Rivers went to her local bank to open a new account. As the clerk input Rivers' personal information, everything seemed to be going smoothly, but then the woman behind the desk stopped abruptly and frowned.

"That's odd," she said. "There seems to be an issue regarding your Social Security number." With a skeptical glance, the employee rose and disappeared in the back room; several minutes later, Rivers was greeted by the branch manager. "Ma'am," the woman pronounced, brandishing a folded paper, "your Social Security number was deactivated in 2008 due to death." Incredulous, Rivers rose from her chair. "You're trying to tell me I've been dead for two years," she stammered, "and no one bothered to tell me?"

Rivers' plight as a categorized deceased person is not singular: it is estimated that every year, some 12,200 U.S. citizens are declared dead by the Social Security Administration due to "keystroke errors." In 2011, the Office of the Inspector General conducted an audit of the Death Master File, and found that, from May 2007 to April 2010, 36,657 people had been added to the master file, making them legally dead. Those affected become like the walking dead, unable to secure a job, make financial transactions, file taxes, or visit the doctor, and for months on end, must endure the nightmare of convincing a large bureaucracy that they haven't yet bit the dust.

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