Bea Cohen isn’t dead.
Back in November 2004, Cohen was admitted to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital for heart surgery. Shortly after, she was discharged to a rehab facility.
Cohen said the discharge paperwork included a box to check, stating the reason for her release from the hospital: discharged or deceased.
“It was obvious the wrong box was checked,” she said, remembering the “deceased” box was checked, but not thinking much of it because it was an obvious error.
In July 2006, Cohen said she applied for a Target credit card.
“My credit was denied,” she said. “This was due to my being deceased.”
Bea Cohen and her husband, Saul, contacted Equifax, the credit reporting agency, and Robert Wood Johnson, to clear up the confusion.
The couple said they presented Social Security records, verification from Bea Cohen’s employer and a current W-2 tax form at that time, and they shared copies of those documents with Bamboozled.
Not so much.
In May 2007, the Cohens decided to refinance their mortgage, so again there were credit checks.
“It showed that I was deceased,” Bea Cohen said. “We appeared at the bank and everyone chuckled since Bea Cohen was there.”
Again, she contacted the hospital and presented paperwork proving she was alive.
She thought it was corrected.
In the spring of 2011, the couple went to Best Buy to purchase a computer. Bea Cohen applied for a store credit card.
“My credit was denied simply because the credit bureau showed that I am deceased,” she said. “I had no idea for all these years that it wasn’t fixed.”
“I figured, the hell with them, so Saul would apply for a card and get a second card for me. That’s what I was using,” she said.
The computer purchase went on her husband’s account.
Then last month, Cohen needed to visit the dentist, and the bill was going to cost a few thousand dollars. She applied for credit with the dentist, and again, it was denied because her credit report showed she is deceased.
While Cohen said she has all the major credit cards, they’re not really hers. They’re simply second cards linked to her husband’s accounts.
“Imagine if something happened to him and I had to use my own credit? What would I do then?” she said.
FIXING THE PROBLEM
We reached out to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and the three credit bureaus to ask them to correct the error.
We presented the Cohens’ documents from 2006, but they were unable to find the discharge papers they said showed Bea Cohen as deceased.
Equifax was the report the Cohens knew to be wrong, so we started there.
After our call, Equifax spoke to Cohen and corrected the report, promising to send something in writing that showed the change.
“The consumer was reported deceased in 2007, but that was corrected by TransUnion in 2007,” said spokesman Clifton O’Neal. ” She is currently fine in her TransUnion report.”
Experian also said it had Cohen listed as deceased in 2007, but her status was corrected at that time.
“I’m happy now,” she said. “It’s good to know I’m a member of society.”
HOW DID IT HAPPEN?
As Scooby-Doo and the gang would say, “We’ve got a mystery on our hands.”
The staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital examined all of Cohen’s records, and it couldn’t find a single item that indicated Cohen was ever listed as deceased. And of the discharge papers that the Cohens insisted had the “deceased” box checked? The hospital said it didn’t have any document that resembled what the couple described.
“It should also be noted that (the hospital) has no record of receiving a formal written request or authorization to release this record to an individual or any credit rating agency,” said spokesman Peter Haigney.
We wondered if it was possible that something slipped through the cracks when the hospital digitized its records, but something else didn’t make sense. The hospital confirmed Cohen had been treated there after the 2004 date, making the “deceased” listing even more of a mystery.
Experian and TransUnion didn’t know where the “deceased” report came from, they said, because the bureaus had made the correction in 2007.
Equifax couldn’t confirm how it happened, but it could say one thing: It didn’t come from Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital.
A mystery, indeed.
CORRECTING A CREDIT ERROR
The Cohens remembered reaching out to the credit bureau and to the hospital — which we now know was not the culprit here. But the couple aren’t sure if they filed an official dispute with the credit bureaus.
Credit reporting errors are quite common, but if you follow proper procedures, mistakes are corrected quickly.
First, check your credit reports for free once a year by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com or call (877) 322-8228. You can also get a free copy if you’re denied credit.
If you find something’s amiss, you can visit the websites or call the bureaus directly: transunion.com or (800) 916-8800; equifax.com or (800) 685-1111; experian.com or (888) 397-3742. You’ll then need to file a dispute in writing.
The credit bureaus have 30 days to investigate and remove errors from your reports. Then, the credit bureau must give you the results in writing along with a free copy of your report if a change is made.
There are two ways your credit report could say you’re deceased, said Rod Griffin of Experian.
The first so-called “deceased indicator” is when a creditor reports an account as being associated with a deceased individual, he said.
“This can happen when someone else who may have been associated with the account, such as a spouse or co-signer, passes away,” Griffin said. “The statement only applies to that account.”
To have the deceased indicator removed, send the bureau a notarized letter affirming your identity, including your full name, current mailing address, Social Security Number, date of birth and a statement that you are not deceased.
Griffin said the second deceased indicator happens when your Social Security number has been reported by the Social Security Administration as deceased. That would apply to your entire credit report, and you’d need to contact Social Security to make the correction. Then you’d need to give the credit bureau a correction letter from Social Security, plus a copy of a government-issued identification card, and a copy of a utility bill, bank or insurance statement.
While we’re not sure what went wrong in Bea Cohen’s case, she’s sure glad it’s been fixed.
“I don’t want to push the time,” she said with a giggle.
THOSE COMCAST PORN CHARGES
Earlier this month, we brought you the story of Vicki Hart and her porn charges.
The Comcast customer said hundreds of dollars of adult films were charged to her account, but she said they weren’t hers.
Comcast credited Hart for the films after the first two sets of charges, and even though she changed cable boxes and reset PINs several times, the charges kept oncoming.
Comcast refused to credit Hart a third time, insisting the movie orders were coming from inside her house.
After our inquires, Comcast said it would closely monitor the account over the next billing cycle to see what was happening.
A week after our story ran — and before the next billing cycle ended — Hart received a phone call.
She couldn’t talk about the details.
“I’ve reached a satisfactory agreement with Comcast, and I signed a nondisclosure agreement,” she said.
Sounds like the company made her an offer in exchange for not talking to Bamboozled anymore. It also sounds as if Comcast found some kind of error on its end, and that it determined the porn orders didn’t originate in Hart’s home.
We asked Comcast what happened.
“Ms. Hart was not at fault and we have apologized to Ms. Hart,” said spokeswoman Beth Bacha, but she wouldn’t comment on what caused the charges in the first place.
Uh-huh. Glad this worked out in Hart’s favor, but we’d love to know the cause of the charges. Once again, a mystery remains.