And not the zombie kind of undead. The bureaucratical, red-tape, fruitlessly-beat-your-head-against-a-wall kind of undead. Actually, since I am officially dead, but in reality still alive, does that officially make me a zombie?
What the Heck are you Talking about?
If you are fascinated by red-tape nightmares, read on…but I warn you, it's long. It all started because our credit cards keep getting auto-cancelled/renewed every few months it seems due to this ever-expanding pastime of credit card company database-hacking. It’s not a big deal for 99% of people who just wait for a new card to arrive in the mail; but sending new cards via corrupt mail to Mexico probably isn’t smart. So applying for another backup card was on our agenda as soon as we hit the States.
What the heck?!?! But my credit is immaculate! Credit declined due to inability to access my report. Invalid, they said. Something about my Social Security# wasn’t matching up to my name. My TransUnion credit score: N/A.
Huh, I thought at first. Weird. Must be a glitch. They couldn’t determine Brian’s either on the first try and actually asked me if he had a job where his credit history may have been expunged. Seriously? You mean like a top secret CIA agent? Like Mitch Rapp? No. I wish. HE wishes. But they eventually found him and it went through. So I thought my issue was a fluke.
Identity Theft Paranoia
I am mildly paranoid about identity theft. So several years ago I placed a security freeze on our credit reports. Basically, I did what you’d pay LifeLock to do (at least initially) – set up an account for each of the big 3 credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax & TransUnion. Each charges a small fee to do so, ranging from $5 to $10. Consequently, anytime I need to purchase something under credit involving a loan or monthly fee, I must unfreeze my credit and pay the $5-$10 fee. Double that if we want a joint account. Sextuple that if I can’t figure out which bureau our credit will be run through ahead of time. Fortunately, we don’t need to do this very often. It certainly deters spur of the moment purchases and I was OK with jumping through hoops because those evil identity thieves will hopefully head for an easier target.
After the credit card debacle, I decided to pull my own credit reports, a task I’d ignored for the past couple years living on the boat. The Fair Credit Act allows 1 free credit report per year from each bureau available from the following website: www.annualcreditreport.com. This is the official website that the FTC advocates, but it’s apparently run by the bureaus who don’t give a ___ whether or not it works. I read so many negative reviews of this site that I was convinced my efforts would be in vain. BUT, I was happily able to obtain my free credit reports from both the E companies: Experian and Equifax. But TransUnion failed. Try again later, it said. I wasn’t TOO discouraged because it told me that for Brian’s as well. Oh well, 4 out of 6 reports…not bad.
Searching for another free way of obtaining my TransUnion report I found www.CreditKarma.com. While the 3 bureaus suck you into monthly payments for credit monitoring (I used to pay for this), CreditKarma makes their money off the credit card applications they advertise and you do not need to pay a dime to obtain reports. How refreshingly honest. I highly recommend this site since I successfully downloaded my TU report: nothing wrong, other than my addresses hadn’t been updated for 6 years. Maybe that’s why. Hmm. I thought I was good. I decided to sit on it.
T-Mobile Nightmare Begins
A couple weeks later we decided to switch mobile carriers and buy a 2nd phone in order to get data and a hotspot while in Mexico. After spending days researching phones and plans and unlocking our current phone, we hit up a T-Mobile kiosk at the mall. The phone I want is backordered, so I must order it online and have it shipped. OK, fine. So I go home and try ordering online but T-Mobile’s website fails - it keeps adding the pink-colored phone to my cart when I specifically picked silver. Plus, even though it’s unlocked, it says our old iphone might not be accepted for use as a second line. Sigh. I didn’t want to have to call…but I call.
A very helpful Keenan from T-Mobile answers my myriad of questions and we are about to close the deal. First problem: T-Mobile says that to run my credit they need to use TransUnion. Great. I just unfroze Experian thinking that was who T-Mobile uses. Apparently, the computer chooses bureaus randomly. Just my luck. I inform them that TU is blocked so I give them my access pin (not the smartest idea, don’t do that, pre-order it online). But at this point it’s been an hour, I am sooo close to finishing…and desperate to remain on the line with the only person that seems willing to help me but who does NOT have an extension I can call back to (quite the ridiculous CSR setup). They run it. No joy: I get invalidated again. It’s not Keenan’s fault. T-Mobile will not tell me what the problem is, other than it comes up invalid. Shitballs.
Fraud Alert x 2
Keenen comes up with another way. I can do the “no credit check” plan. Great. It’s a slightly different plan, but it still works for us. We get everything set up. I give him my credit card. It won’t go through. What the hell. This doesn’t happen. I pay my card off every month. The only reason it wouldn’t go through is for a fraud alert. As I am sounding off a 2nd card number I hear a text message coming through. Hmmm. I wonder. Then Keenan tells me the 2nd card is declined. What???! Now I am uber-concerned. Two declines at the same time. I tell him to hold on and check my texts…sure enough, I see fraud alert messages from both credit cards asking me to authorize this large purchase from T-Mobile. Sigh. I authorize the 1st card via text. He runs it again. No joy. WTF!
Now this is getting almost comical at this point. I am thinking to myself, maybe I shouldn’t be getting this phone.
I call my credit card company while keeping Keenan on hold. Of course… I unknowingly hang up on him. Ironically, to talk to a card representative my “wait time will be 15 minutes.“ I start laughing out loud now. 15 f-ing minutes? Seriously? I am this close to hanging up. I endure several minutes of elevator music, combined with several more agonizing minutes while her computer was “unusually slow”. Then as my authorization was being entered, her computer literally crashed. Wow. She thought the transaction went through before it crashed and if I waited 5 minutes it should be fine. She didn’t sound too sure. Comical? Yes. But wait, it gets worse.
The Men in Black Take Over
Keenan, bless his persistence and patience in getting a sale, called me back after a half hour. Yes, the man actually called me back. I was impressed. He tells me he has never seen a customer with their credit locked down so well. Sigh. Yeah. Well…He ran my card a third time… unsuccessfully. (Authorization had obviously not taken place before that computer crash.) Then the black hole set in. I was put on hold for a looong time. Then Keenan came back on the line and informed me I needed to complete the transaction at a T-Mobile store. They were done with me. Nodding my head, I admitted defeat. Yeah… I get it.
It became crystal clear what was happening. I could picture the Men in Black passing knowing glances, raising eyebrows behind black spectacles, with pursed lips and tented hands, conferring…judging me, my integrity. Not a cool feeling. OK great, now T-Mobile suspects I am not who I say I am. Seriously, do you think I would TRY so hard if I wasn’t ME?
I am exhausted and depressed from the whole situation. I don’t blame T-Mobile. They were very helpful and quite frankly, I probably wouldn’t give me a phone either at this point. Having both credit cards flag that charge as potential fraud was the ironic last straw. (I had to call both companies back to make sure they didn’t charge me for a phone I couldn’t purchase.) Alas, no phone for me. The following day I call TransUnion. And yup, it gets even better.
1st TransUnion call: Ah, it’s just your address.
I ask the customer service agent why two companies that have checked my credit are claiming it as invalid. He tells me it looks like it’s because my address is incorrect. I already know this because I have my CreditKarma credit report and the address is 6 years old. I’ve had multiple addresses since. He starts to enter my correct address and I’m initially thinking “whew, that’s all it is, no big deal.” But alas, the system kicks back an error and won’t allow him to enter it manually. The only way for me to fix it is to mail in all this stuff: driver’s license, utility bill (which I don’t have - duh, I live on a boat – I don’t tell him that), blah blah blah. I begin to ask further questions as to how it’s possible that an address is the only reason for the invalidation of my report. He tells me to have the requesting companies ask their “local marketing department of TransUnion” to understand why. What the heck does that mean? He shuts down and refuses further assistance. I am super frustrated.
2nd TransUnion call: Nope, it’s ‘cause you’re dead!
I felt CSR #1 didn’t look hard enough and essentially shut down my inquiries. The next day I call back and finally talk to a guy who seemed to want to help, tell him my issue and this guy actually READS my report. Novel idea. “Hmmm. It looks like you have been reported as deceased by a company.”( Jaw drops, eyes roll into head.) Wait. WHAAATTTTT????
I don’t even know what to say. “But… I’m not. I’m talking to you right now.” I hear myself utter incredulously. Obvious to me, not so obvious to them. He tells me I must to go to the Social Security office and fill out Form 2458, send in a copy of my social security card and a bunch of other papers to prove to TransUnion that I’M NOT DEAD! I am flabbergasted. Does anyone say that anymore? Well, I just did. Flabbergasted.
Social Security Administration
I call the local office and explain my situation. “I need to see if the SS admin thinks I’m dead.” What? After thinking I am crazy for a second, the employee hears me out and looks up my file. Nope. I’m alive and kicking according to the gub’mint (awesome), including the IRS (damn). But there’s a problem: He thinks I can only fill out Form 2458 if I was dead in the SSA’s eyes, and since I’m NOT, I can’t fill out the form. Since the form is all about verifying benefits, making a change or fixing a mistake and there IS no mistake (on their end), I can’t fill it out. You mean I can’t get the form to prove I am alive to TransUnion because I am not dead according to the government? Accckkkkkk.
TransUnion call#3: Customer service agents who could care less.
I call and speak to a 3rd person,” Kevin”, who I firmly believe is NOT really named Kevin. I explained everything ALL over again (since they apparently do NOT add call notes to your file). I tell him I am actually undead according to the government and that it is YOUR records that are messed up. And the SSA says I cannot fill out Form 2458 since they know I’m really alive. But he flat out tells me they need the form like he was reading text on his little computer screen and unwilling to go any further with logic or explain why. I tried in vain to get him to tell me which company reported my death so that I could try and have them UNreport it. I get waylaid. I hung up again, done for the day. I can only take so much angst per day.
TransUnion Call#4: “Ma’am, we need Form 2458. Form 2458. Form 2458.”
Just for good measure, I call one last time to try a 4th employee and get the same run around. No budging. Like a broken record: “Ma’am you need to fill out Form 2458…” Over and over. My bad attitude is evident at this point and I feel like screaming (or crying). These people are the opposite of helpful. No explanation as to what I should tell the SSA since they don’t think I should be filling out this form. He DID tell me he will be sending me a copy of my credit report in the mail so that I can review its contents and dispute any inaccuracies. Awesome. TransUnion sucks and the SSA can’t help me. I am just depressed.
The real kick in the arse here is that this is (supposedly) all based on ONE company reporting me dead. ONE! Just one. Plus, they will not tell me when this happened or which idiot company sent in this misinformation. Regardless, you’d think a little logic would ensue…. The other two credit bureaus are not showing me as dead. Hmmm. Shouldn’t TU require SOME kind of corroboration before flagging me as deceased? Like, oh, I don’t know, contact the SSA admin office to verify my deceasement? Why do I have to do their job?
The Social Security Office – Best Government Agency of All Time, I Know, Right? Who Knew?
By now my ONLY hope is Form 2458. So I went to the SS Admin Office to plead my case. I was told this form is filled out only when someone needs to prove they are receiving social security benefits and how much. Since I don’t currently receive any, and there’s no change in my status, there’s no point to the form – an endless circle. No one in the office had ever heard of using this form to make a person “undead” in the eyes of a credit bureau and had no idea what to do with me.
But bless their hearts, they solved my problem. Instead of ignoring my plight and sticking to the forms’ originally intended purpose, they did what any reasonable human being would do…they used the “Other” line. At the bottom of the form there is a blank line for “Other” in which they wrote: “Ms. Marya Lipiec is alive and NOT deceased (I made them add the not dead part just for good measure) and not receiving social security benefits at this time.” True dat.
The Bad News
Now I have my Form 2458. YeeHa! Then I received my “official” credit report from TransUnion in the mail. (I get it, this story is excruciatingly long and you might have to take a potty break… but this is the best part.) The good news? My name was right. The bad news? Take your pick:
- My SS# wasn’t right, not even close. Seriously. How does this happen?!!? Speechless.
- My past credit disappeared…completely. My normally 20 page report was but a single page. One inquiry remained from the credit card company to which I recently applied. What??!! Where’s the past 20 years of hard-earned, paid-as-agrees credit cards and paid-off bank loans?
- The final straw? A note at the bottom: “File SSN used in death benefits claim for Marjorie Dickerson DOB: 1907. DOC: 2002. Zip code last residence….” (Name changed to protect the innocent ACTUAL dead.)
At this point I am livid. How can this have happened? How is it possible that my Credit Karma report was accurate (pulled from TU using my correct SS#) but the TU official report (pulled using that SAME SS#) is totally f’ed up? How can there be TWO of me? In the one file, everything is normal; in the other, my name is associated with a 95-yr-old woman who died in 2002, has no credit and a totally different SS#? I’m pissed. And even more dejected. I’ll never get this fixed. Judging from the unhelpful, robot attitude of TransUnion’s customer service reps, I assume I am doomed to be dead for years.
My Sarcastic Dispute Letter
I take the next several days compiling my “dispute” letter. And what a letter it was. I had to reread and edit the irritation out of my words over the course of several days. But it just wasn’t possible. This was someone‘s obvious CLERICAL ERROR screwing my life up, NOT just some “company that reported me as dead”. Someone reported Marjorie as dead and TransUnion inexplicably merged my name with her SS# resulting in a new file. Turns out, my paranoia about identity theft can now extend from the evil life-hackers to the very institutions who are supposed to maintain my credit file – the credit bureaus. I can’t protect myself from their incredible inefficiencies, internal bureaucracies and life-altering error-makers.
Irate English Teacher
I made copies of everything from my SS card & driver license to military ID cards & former utility bills proving former addresses - my “proof of life”. (I’m just glad I didn’t have to cut off a thumb.) I then made copies of both credit reports, the good and the bad. Like a crazed English teacher on Red Bull, I marked those reports up with screaming fluorescent highlighters and angry double underlines and flamboyant margin notes with numerous exclamation points. I added my irritated dispute letter to my stack-‘o-copies and headed to the post office. The final irony? The postal clerk was a bit worried - the address (that I triple checked via calls & website) had an improper zip code for the designated city. Seriously? Sigh. Beat…head...against…wall. I got a return receipt, just in case. Partially relieved it was out of my hands, I waited.
Hiding my Head in the Sand
Credit bureaus are supposed to take disputes seriously and resolve them within one month. Dubious, I waited for over a month. In researching my problem, I had found only one blog about a guy who had “Form 2458” issues with a bureau. It took him over a year to correct. I tried to ignore my constant feeling of dread.
So I hid my head in the sand. We traveled in the van. We saw family and friends. I didn’t feel like writing the blog or even looking at the computer. Near the end, I knew I’d have to make the call to TransUnion soon. But I dreaded another round of runarounds. Just thinking about it made my stomach cringe. Eventually, though, the time came and I had to face the music.
I called. I got the run around.
Surprised? The CSR refused to tell me what, if anything, had been fixed. There were no “notes in my file” indicating a change of breathing status or whether my SS# was even correct or whether I had any of my credit back. Again, another robot. I had no hope. I'm going to be dead for months. She said she would send me another “official” report in the mail. Oh goody.
A couple weeks later, I received my report… Dun, dun, dun.
Shockingly, it was fixed! FIXED!
So, after all the negative stuff I just wrote about TransUnion’s customer service I will state that whoever worked on my dispute behind the scenes was awesome! I am so grateful to that person for doing their job, I wish I could thank them personally. Everything was miraculously right again, my SS#, my 20 years and 20 pages of credit and most importantly, no more “special notes” at the bottom about Marjorie.
I am no longer dead! YAY!!!!
You have no idea as to my relief. Problem is, I’m still dubious (glass-half-empty person that I am). Now I need to get back to T-Mobile and clear my name with the Men in Black. This is personal. I decide to wait a few weeks though to make sure the report “took” throughout their system.
T-Mobile Store – 3rd Attempt
I head to a T-Mobile store a full day after I’d successfully unlocked my credit. Remember, I have to unlock each bureau again to allow T-Mobile access. As I started the credit application process, I could tell I was still on the ‘Men in Black’ shit list. Rolling the credit bureau dice, T-Mobile chose TransUnion again. Fate? Probably not, I’ll bet they purposefully used the same bureau. They think I’m scamming. They actually made a copy of my driver license. I didn’t care. This was personal now. I AM ME dammit, go ahead, make your copies. I tell the T-Mobile guys my story. The sales associate said usually people who try THIS hard to get a phone are the real deal. He says T-Mobile has recorded my multiple attempts already, so I am a “manual” credit, which means they must make me talk to their credit people over the phone while physically in the store. So I talk to the credit guy. They can’t access my TU credit report. It’s locked. ARRRRRGGG! You’ve GOT to be KIDDING me.
Not kidding. After ALL that. I feel like I am back at square one. This is the never-ending story. I go home dejected assuming I have additional issues with my file. I call TransUnion anyway because dammit I PAID $10 for an unlock that didn’t unlock. I am told, yes, he sees the unlock I ordered online, but it didn’t take. Technical glitch. He manually fixed it and told me I was good to go. You sure? Like if I go there right now, it’s going to be fine? Yes. Riiiight. I’ll believe it when I have a phone in my warm, alive hands. (As opposed to cold and dead. Ha, I still have a tiny sense of humor after all this.)
The next day I go back to T-Mobile. I talk to the credit dude on the phone again. But I think I am talking to a TransUnion agent trying to access my file. I get agitated because he’s continually screwing up my address. (Even the in-store associate is frustrated talking to him, so it’s not just me and my snowballing irritation at this whole mess.) I can’t understand his thick accent and the first question he asks is not about me. Someone named Shelly Lipiec. What the hell! I start all up in his phone face, like I don’t know this Shelly person, are you sure you are looking at the right file? I assumed he was accessing some other woman’s report – not like it hasn’t happened before.
Turns out I am talking to a T-Mobile employee who has just successfully accessed my (now) unlocked TU file and this is an actual security question regarding people with whom I may (or may not) have had joint credit. Oh. My bad! I calmed down, stated an emphatic “NO I don’t know this person”, and answered the next couple normal security questions about addresses and loans accurately, handing the phone back to the associate, done with my interrogation.
I passed! I was finally established as ME. I was no longer dead. The Men in Black finally believe me! Just like that. Unbelievable.
It’s good to be alive!
I walked out of that store with more than just a new phone. I was ME again. After 3 months filled with numerous excruciating phone calls, mounds of paperwork, loads of internet research, a month of head-in-sand-waiting, several T-Mobile visits and enough angst and head pounding to cause an aneurysm, I finally had my credit back. My life back. My mojo back. I’m alive! I’m alive!
The moral of this long, boring tale…
Download your free credit reports every year. If something isn’t right, fix it.
I recommend adding a security freeze to each credit bureau to keep the life-hackers at bay. Yes, it makes buying things a PITA but it’s still worth the effort.
T-Mobile gets an A- for polite and knowledgeable customer service across my numerous botched attempts at buying a phone. That last credit check guy was polite but a poor communicator while continually bumbling simple data entry.
I was surprised at my awesome experience with the local Social Security office (I mean they ARE a government agency). They get an A for saving me with out-of-the-box thinking.
But TransUnion has proven itself just another vast bureaucracy, staffed essentially with trained seals as agents repeating the computer screen answer and refusing initiative when confronted with a strange problem. I give TU’s phone agents an F- for atrocious customer service, their data entry an F for merging my file with a dead person whose name and SS# wasn’t even close and their dispute fixers an A- for correcting their mistake in a timely manner after receiving my “proof of life”. (They get the ‘minus’ because they neglected to add two previous addresses I specifically requested –partial fail-but at least the important stuff was corrected.) Two out of three, in this case, IS bad.
As red-tape situations go, this could have been far, far worse! I'm just glad it all worked out and I can now move on with my life, happy to be alive, officially!