Woman's credit frozen after being mistaken for dead

February 10, 2010 7:10:28 PM PST
With interest rates at rock bottom levels, many people are saving money by refinancing their mortgages. But, a strange and disturbing note on a woman's credit report stopped her from getting the cheaper loan.

Usually, if there is a mistake on your credit report, it has to do with your payment history or account balances. In this case, a woman found herself in the odd position of having to prove she was not dead and believe it or not, it took 7 On Your Side to get that done.

Julie Kerr of Napa was helping her mother refinance her home up near Seattle. Her dad had died recently and she wanted to help reduce her mom's expenses.

"Bank of America had some pretty good refinance rates, so I thought this would be perfect for her," she said.

Things were going smoothly. The loan was almost done until they hit a snag. The credit report from Experian said Julie's mom was dead and the bank stopped everything.

"They said, 'I'm really sorry, but we can't process this loan any further because we have a report declaring you deceased," Kerr recalled.

No one was more surprised to hear the report of Julie's mother's death than Julie's mother herself, Ann Howe of Bothel, Washington.

"I just said, 'What? What are they talking about?' I said, 'I'm certainly alive. My doctor knows I'm alive," Howe said.

Howe indeed is alive and well, but she could not get anybody to believe her even though she goes into Bank of America all the time.

"Everybody knows my mom there," said Kerr. "My mom's this happy-go-lucky chatterbox."

"Bank of America knew that I was coming in there. I have automatic deposits that go in there," Howe said.

However, seeing was not believing. So, Howe sent an official notarized letter to Bank of America saying, "The report of my demise is inaccurate information."

"We understand she's alive. We understand it's a mistake, but because we can't get a credit score from Experian, there's nothing we can do," Kerr said.

No score. No loan. All because of a notation. It came from Lowe's department store where Howe has a charge card. GE Money Bank, which issues the card, reported that Howe was "deceased." So, Kerr called Lowe's and explained that her mom is alive. But, no one could help. So, she filed a dispute with Experian. Still, nothing changed.

"Somebody made a real ignorant mistake when they told Experian that I was dead," Howe said. "I mean, that was a terrible blow."

This was especially hard on Howe because she had just survived a real brush with death during open heart surgery. She awakened to find Experian's report of her demise.

"I'd go to bed at night and I didn't sleep," she said.

"I still mourn my dad and it's hard for me to talk about it and then, to say my mother's not alive," Kerr told ABC7.

"I have to say that you don't hear that very often, where people are being reported deceased when they're not," consumer credit counselor Dan Parrish told 7 on Your Side.

Parrish says merchants are obligated to correct any errors they report to credit bureaus.

"That's what Lowe's really needs to do," he said. "They need to confirm, OK we were wrong here. We need to report this to Experian right away because it's really hurting this consumer's ability for credit."

Time was running out because the 60-day lock on Howe's loan was about to expire.

"Julie got very frustrated and went to Channel 7 in San Francisco because she could not get through to these people," Howe said.

7 On Your Side contacted Bank of America.

"And then, doors just flew open," Kerr said.

First, Bank of America extended the 60-day lock on the loan. GE Money Bank sent Howe a letter saying that the death report was a mistake and Experian cleared her credit report right away.

"I have my loan now and I'm very glad for that," said Howe.

"We would not have this loan. My mom would still be back where she was if it wasn't for 7 On Your Side. So, it was a really happy ending thanks to you guys," Kerr said.

If you find a mistake on your credit report, it can take some doing to get it corrected. But, each of the three main credit bureaus has a dispute process for you to follow. Hopefully it won't be as frustrating for you as it was for Howe.