Illinois man turns to News 4 Investigates to prove he’s alive after credit card stopped working

Michael Hillard is one of thousands of people that are mistakenly reported dead every year in the U.S.
Published: Feb. 14, 2023 at 8:46 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 15, 2023 at 8:39 AM CST
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) - A local man found himself dealing with his own death, and not in the literal sense. He recently learned that his credit card company, his life insurance, and many others thought he was deceased.

“I have never been dead before,” said Michael Hillard, who lives in Summerfield, Illinois.

It all started a few weeks back when his credit card randomly stopped working. He called to ask why. and was told his account was closed because he was deceased. That was bizarre enough.

“I say, ‘hey, I am not dead, because you are talking to me on the phone right now,’” he said.

But then it was another credit card and other entities too.

“How am I dead if I am making payments, dead people don’t pay bills,” he said.

How this could happen? He didn’t have a clue.

“The second time, the third time, okay, there is a problem,” he said.

The 58-year-old hasn’t even had a health scare.

“Maybe I am a person that got wound up in someone’s dark web, and it’s my turn to pay the piper,” Hillard said.

No one he talked to could give him a straight answer.

“That’s why I called you. Maybe you can find out things that I can’t,” he said.

So News 4 did some digging, and we found out Michael is far from alone.

The Social Security Administration has said thousands of people are mistakenly reported as deceased by the agency every year. The issue is so common they even have a frequently asked question section about it on their website. The problem gets bigger if they report the information to the Death Master file, which is public, and that’s when people can literally get locked out of their own lives.

“In a deceased case, your credit score goes to zero, so it’s the ultimate type of error,” said attorney Joseph McClelland.

McClelland, whose practice now focuses on mistakenly declared deceased cases, told News 4 the number of people impacted is likely much higher than the government reports.

“The more likely cause is that one of your lenders, credit cards or banks that have made this error,” he said. “I think the burden falls on the credit bureaus, they have a duty to maintain maximum accuracy of their credit reports.”

He works to get people’s credit back on track. If it happens to you, he says, you could be entitled to monetary damages.

“A consumer would have a claim in this situation,” said McClelland.

But in the meantime, the situation can have devastating effects.

“You might not get employment, you can lose benefits, can’t get water, gas, you can’t get a driver’s license,” he said.

Sarah Wetzel with the Better Business Bureau says catching it quickly can be key. It’s why she says you should be regularly checking your credit report.

“That’s something that’s going to show up on their credit report, whether they are deceased or not,” she said.

“It’s a great reminder to consumers to be vigilant that they are taking control of their credit and personal financial information,” said Wetzel.

“What do you need from me to verify that I am alive?” asked Michael.

Michael now has the hassle of having to prove that he’s still alive.

“I have a lot of good years left on me, and I have to keep it moving,” said Michael.

In Michael’s case, the question of how it happened is still a mystery. The state of Illinois said they don’t have a death record for him. The Social Security Administration is still looking into it.

In the meantime, the best thing to do here is to check your credit report right now to make sure this mistake hasn’t happened to you. You can do that here.

To find more information about when you can get your free credit reports, click here.