Madeline-Michelle Carthen from St. Louis, Missouri was mistakenly declared deceased in 2007.
The error resulted in Carthen losing jobs, being unable to obtain a mortgage, and facing other severe financial hardships.
Despite efforts including a federal lawsuit and a name change, Carthen’s situation remains unresolved.
In what seemed like a bizarre mistake, 52-year-old Madeline-Michelle Carthen was preparing for a summer internship in Ghana through Webster University when she was informed that her Social Security number associated her with a deceased person.
“I laughed,” Carthen stated. “I said, ‘What do you mean? I’m sitting right here. … How am I dead? Is this going to affect my international internship?’”
What Carthen believed to be a minor error turned out to be a devastating blow to her livelihood. She had to withdraw from school, was fired from multiple jobs, and even lost her home, all due to the erroneous record that stated she died in 2007.
“I just know I’m alive. I don’t care what A.I. says or software says, but I’m alive,” Carthen proclaimed. “But it’s hard to prove that.”
The issue first arose in the summer of 2007 when Carthen, a business technology student and mother, was advised to reach out to the Social Security Administration (SSA) after being told that her Social Security number indicated she was deceased.
After contacting the SSA, Carthen found out she was mistakenly added to its death master file – a compilation of records for deceased individuals possessing Social Security numbers. The ramifications were immediate and severe.
“Well, it got worse, because it wasn’t creditors. Being in the death master file, it went to the IRS, it went to the Department of Homeland Security, it went to E-verify, all of these things. It just started affecting my life,” she explained.
Over the years, this erroneous classification led Carthen to face numerous challenges.
“Sometimes I can get a job and then within so many months, there’s going to be a problem,” she said.
To date, she remains uncertain as to how her name ended up on the death master file.
The SSA’s guidance for those mistakenly declared dead is straightforward: visit the local Social Security office with the necessary documentation. However, Carthen’s experience proves that the solution is not so simple.
She has tirelessly fought to correct this blunder, even going so far as to contact four U.S. presidents for assistance.
In 2019, she filed a federal lawsuit against the SSA and other government entities, but it was dismissed due to the government’s sovereign immunity.
Despite being issued a new Social Security number in 2021 and even legally changing her name, Carthen’s ordeal continues.
Her new Social Security number is still linked to the old one, and she remains trapped in bureaucratic limbo.
“Here I am still stuck, and nobody can help,” Carthen lamented. “I just want answers.”
Local news affiliate, KSDK of St. Louis, which originally reported on Carthen’s situation in 2007, revealed they are actively working to help resolve the issue.
Carthen remains determined, saying, “I don’t care if it takes 20 years, I’m going to still do what I got to do to make this situation right, not just for myself but for others.”
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