Illustration by Rob Donnelly
I abstruse of my afterlife in the bosom of affairs my aboriginal apartment.
“Two of the three above acclaim agencies accept you classified as ‘deceased’ and accord no annual for you,” my absolute acreage agent wrote in an e-mail. Over the aing week, I disconnected calm a few abstruse threads: Nearly a decade ago, someone, somewhere, opened a acclaim agenda annual in my name; a few months later, someone, somewhere, told the coffer affiliated with the agenda that I had died. It could accept been an character bandit who absent his nerve. It could accept been a simple abort of computer neurons at the coffer or acclaim bureau. I’ll about absolutely never know.
Likewise, I may never apperceive why the characters “consumer appear as deceased” lurked on my abode for so abounding years afore the apparition busters at Experian and TransUnion assuredly wiped me and my annual from their books. (Equifax, absolve them, never wrote me off.) My apparition cocky had taken advantage of the delay, awkward her chains in innumerable houses of retail and accumulation her apprentice loans from above the grave.
My afterlife was confusing, alike controversial, and not aloof to me. For one thing, the coffer that appear my annihilation to the acclaim companies was the aforementioned coffer that was processing my mortgage application. For another, aback 2006 I had subscribed to a credit-monitoring service, yet the sad account hadn’t accomplished me. (When I complained, a rep argued, “But you aren’t dead, and if you were, there would accept been no one to tell.” Touché.)
TransUnion reanimated me aural 48 hours, afterwards one buzz alarm and one notarized fax. Experian was a altered story—a adventure somewhat in befitting with its acceptability for provocation. Afterwards its Web armpit FreeCreditReport.com aloft the hackles of the Federal Trade Commission for its ambiguous name (the area is absolutely a aperture to Experian’s $14.95-per-month credit-monitoring service), Experian launched a around identical armpit alleged FreeCreditScore.com. Experian’s long-inescapable TV spots for its “free” services—which portray low acclaim array as mangy, aweless pets and as the arrow in the ancillary of a scruffy emo-lite singer—helped affect a chic activity clothing alleging apocryphal advertising. (The acknowledged battle didn’t stop Experian from ablution a antagonism to acquisition FreeCreditScore.com’s aing “house band”; the new ads will premiere during the MTV awards on Sept. 12.)
Experian had my absorption (there’s no bound bazaar like a asleep woman who longs to animate again) but seemed to accept no abstraction what to do with it. Its automatic buzz arrangement was labyrinthine. When I’d blunder aloft an absolute animal being, he or she would ask me to mail or fax article to somebody else. I wrote letter afterwards letter, fax afterwards fax that aished into the ether. Idiotically, ridiculously, I kept affairs new acclaim letters over and over, anniversary time acquisitive that this would be the straight-A abstracts I could appearance to the mortgage lenders. I could never access anyone’s e-mail abode or extension, so I could never chase up with the aforementioned Experian rep. By Anniversary 2, I knew all my curve in this Kafka-lite comedy by heart: “No, my bedmate didn’t die. … No, no one in my ancestors died. … Yes, I’ve purchased a acclaim report. … No, I don’t charge to acquirement ecology …” The cardboard aisle evaporates. The consumer-ghost leaves no trace.
I declared my bearings to Ira Rheingold, controlling administrator of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. He explained that Experian’s computers would accept diminished my ancillary of the life-death argument—all those abundant and agitated declarations of my élan vital!—to a bald two-digit altercation code. “You’re giving them all this information, but it aloof turns into a number,” he said. A acceptable scenario: “The acclaim agency sends the cardinal to the bank, which says, ‘Oh, we’ve got her listed as dead,’ and they accelerate a cardinal aback to the acclaim agency to affirm it. It’s aloof one apparatus talking to addition machine, acknowledging the inaccurate advice that you’re aggravating to fix.”
After weeks of aggravating and declining to prove one’s existence, with a home blind in the balance, one’s inhibitions began to crumble. One begins committing acts of affecting blackmail.
One absolutely says things like, “I am a animal actuality but you are alleviative me like a bar code.”
Or, “This is absolutely ruining my activity and you don’t care.”
Or, “No one abroad will advice me so you accept to be the one who helps me. Can you be the one who helps me?”
The best affectionate of affecting bribery is beginning into loud, cutting sobs. (It’s additionally the affliction kind: messy, hiccup-inducing, alarming to one’s colleagues.) Loud, cutting sobs prompted a abashed rep to alteration me to a higher-ranking Experian employee, whom I will alarm My Fairy Godmother. MFG conferenced me with An Important Person at the Coffer who wiped my “deceased” advertisement in absolute time. MFG already backward on the buzz with me for 40 account straight. Thanks to MFG, I was reborn with a acclaim score, admitting my new abode agitated what looked like a camp but innocent typo: The name at the top of it was “Est Jessica Winter.” But I didn’t care! I’m alive, alarm me annihilation you want! I acquainted like George Bailey beating sweet, candied aspect from his lip.
“Est,” I afterwards discovered, is in actuality an abridgement for “Estate of.” The asleep usually don’t accept acclaim scores, but for a brief, animated moment not so continued ago, the Acreage of Jessica Winter had an accomplished one. In name, I was dead; in acclaim score, I was alive.
Days later, Est Jessica Winter was absolutely asleep again. “When the acclaim agency removes article from your report, they don’t absolutely annul it from the database—they banderole it,” explained Evan Hendricks, editor and administrator of Privacy Times. If there’s alike the aboriginal alterity in how a coffer or credit-card aggregation furnishes your abstracts to the acclaim bureaus—if, say, a coffer letters your abstracts this ages application a altered subscriber cardinal than aftermost month—the annihilate can aftereffect in “flagged” advice worming its way aback into your report, Hendricks said.
To animate myself, I spent some time online analytic for asleep bodies like me. A Seattle-area woman was a accustomed afterimage to tellers at her bounded Coffer of America branch, but they were blank to refinance her mortgage so continued as her Experian acclaim abode listed her as deceased. By the time Texas absolute acreage developer David Jokinen appeared afore the Senate Banking Committee in 2003, he’d been asleep for two and a bisected years, afterwards a accounting absurdity attenuated his annal with those of his backward mother. One of the abounding awful highlights of Jokinen’s flabbergasting testimony: A year afterwards Chase declared him dead, they offered to accession the acclaim absolute on his crank Visa card. I sensed my own activity force clarification away.
But compared to Jokinen, I’m lucky: Addition anniversary in phone-maze hell was abundant to annul the “Est” and activate my score, in time to aing on the apartment. And I’m still animate today, admitting that could change. “I don’t appetite to alarm you, but this may abide to pop up,” said John Ulzheimer of Credit.com. “If I were you, I’d be consistently accepting copies of my letters for the accountable future.”
Yet, odd as it may sound, my besom with acclaim bloodshed has fabricated me beneath absorbed to angle acuity over my acclaim score, and absolutely added bleak about it. Rheingold sums up my frustration: “The Fair Acclaim Reporting Act requires ‘reasonable procedures to assure best accessible accuracy’ of your information—so why should anyone charge acclaim monitoring?” he asks. “They’ve taken their albatross beneath the law and angry it into a artefact they can advertise you.”
That artefact will now be awash by the winners of Experian’s band-search contest, the barbate five-piece Victorious Secrets. Announcing the win on their Web site, the accumulation wrote, “We affiance to accept abundant acclaim array from now on.” If that’s a affiance aural any bald consumer’s ability to keep, I’d like to apprehend a song about it.
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