Woman's Social Security checks stop after wrongly declared dead

An ABC7 I-Team Investigation
Geraldine Fuller Jones was stripped of her Social Security and Medicare benefits. She turned to the I-Team after she got a "morbid" excuse from government officials.

Her Social Security check suddenly stopped coming and then she got an eerie letter saying she was six feet under. Fuller Jones is dead, according to the Social Security Administration.

"It's like, 'Ok, what happened? This has to be a joke, a big mistake.' I thought it was a matter of making that call and telling them that this had to be an error," Fuller Jones said. "And the first lady I spoke to snubbed it off, rude, abrupt."

Fuller Jones is very much alive and she's red-hot mad at the Social Security Administration for mistakenly putting her on their master death list.

After spending hours on the phone, she had to take a day off work from her part-time job to go into a Social Security office to prove she is alive. The administration is now fixing the error but she said she's still waiting for her monthly payments -- and back pay.

"Until Medicare pays my doctors I have trouble keeping my appointments," Fuller Jones said.

And because Social Security killed her off, she's also now trying to get her Medicare reinstated so she can go to the doctor. She initially found out about the error through a medical letter, offering condolences, and issued to "The Estate of Geraldine Fuller Jones."

"When I read it, it was strange to read. To the Estate of Geraldine Fuller Jones. So I kind of smiled and laughed," Fuller Jones said.

In fact, her doctors all received letters too, asking them to reimburse Medicare, saying that her insurance claims were invalid and that she was dead.

"I think it is disheartening what I have gone through," Fuller Jones said.

Unfortunately, Fuller Jones is not alone. A 2011 report from the Office of the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration said about 12,000 people a year were marked deceased when they were very much alive.

About 36,000 people were erroneously listed as deceased.


However, the Social Security Administration told the I-Team there have been improvements, saying it handles 2.8 million reports of death a year and that 9,000 per year are mistakes.

"Who else is out there that can't make these phone calls back-to-back and ask about their funds? Who else is out there that just don't have the energy to go through what I have gone through?" Fuller Jones asked.

This can all happen from something as simple as a clerical error. If one number in a Social Security number is put in incorrectly, that person is killed off.

If you don't catch it right away you could have trouble opening bank accounts, getting a passport and filing your taxes.

In a statement, the Social Security Administration said:

"The problem you're inquiring about is limited to state death records coming from a few states, Virginia, North Dakota, and South Dakota that were part of a special effort to enhance the quality of Social Security's death records. When Social Security became aware of the action that created the erroneous death event, we made this occurrence public through media outlets, particularly, The Washington Post, Dead or alive? Social Security misclassified some. Additionally, we immediately issued processing instructions to our field office employees to assist people expeditiously to remove death information from their records and to reinstate benefits as quickly as possible. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience this caused Mrs. Jones and all affected individuals.

Social Security does not generate death information; rather, we collect it from a variety of sources so that we can administer our programs. We post about 2.8 million new reports of death each year and our records are highly accurate. Of these millions of death reports we receive each year, about 9,000 instances per year (or less than 1/3 of 1 percent) are subsequently corrected. These reports come to us primarily from family members, funeral homes, financial institutions, and States. If a person suspects that they have been incorrectly listed as deceased on their Social Security record, should visit their local Social Security office as soon as possible. They should take at least one piece of current (not expired) original form of identification with them."

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