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Sparta woman surprised to learn she’s ‘dead,’ according to Social Security

Posted at 7:14 PM, Apr 27, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-27 19:14:38-04

SPARTA, Mich. -- Benjamin Franklin once wrote, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Those famous words came to mind after I spoke with Sarah Jewell, 25, from Sparta. Like most hardworking Americans, the pharmacy technician filed her tax return in February. However, instead of a refund, the IRS sent her a letter that said she was dead.

The letter read “that my Social Security number was coming up that I was deceased,” Jewell said. It just about took her breath away when she found out she’s dead. Obviously, the problem is that she’s still alive.

The IRS told her to contact the local Social Security office if there’s an error. She went in person.

“I’m like, ‘I’m alive!,'" she chuckled.

Jewell said the staff seemed taken aback but very helpful.

“Apparently, someone back in November of 2014 had put in, had filed that my Social Security number was deceased,” she recalled.

Now, three months after her visit to the office, Jewell said her number still hasn’t been resurrected. What's the holdup on a fix?

"I honestly have no clue, because the office basically implied everything’s taken care of. 'You should be fine,'" she recalled.

Jewell still hasn’t received her tax refund. And that’s just the beginning.

“I need to renew my driver’s license, and apparently it has me as deceased,” she said.

One of her credit cards was canceled, and her job benefits have also been flagged. Her future as a licensed pharmacy tech is endangered.

“Everyone has to be licensed in the state of Michigan by the end of June," Jewell said. "And so if I don’t get this taken care of soon, I will be essentially out of a job.”

Her death on paper is affecting every area of her life. She said she hasn't gotten a remedy from Social Security.

“There was just no instruction on like, what to do from here."

Jewell's mother contacted the FOX 17 Problem Solvers for help. First thing Monday morning, I called the IRS, the Secretary of State's office in Lansing and the Social Security Administration's Grand Rapids office to get the ball rolling towards a solution.

Social Security had to cancel our interview due to a scheduling conflict, but deputy regional communications director Doug Nguyen said this is very rare. Out of nearly 3 million deaths each year, 9,000 living Americans are misreported as dead to the Social Security Administration. That's .35 percent.

“Your Social Security number is tied to every piece of information about you. So, yeah, it’s kind of daunting," Jewell said.

The FOX 17 Problem Solvers are working with all those agencies to bring Sarah back to life and hope to have this resolved soon.