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San Diegan Mark Pinney discovered what happens when the U.S. government thinks you're dead when, in fact, you're very much alive. Mari Payton files this NBC 7 Investigates report.
San Diegans declared dead, when they’re really alive.
Some San Diegans are being mistakenly "killed" by the Social Security Administration and the errors have a real impact on the people who are very much "alive.”
Mark Pinney, 58, was born and raised in San Diego.
He says he lived a pretty ordinary life, until the extraordinary happened in September 2010 at a Pine Valley Albertsons.
His bank card was denied.
So he went to his Union Bank to get it sorted out.
“When I went into the service people they told me that I was deceased, but I said, ‘you know here I am,” Pinney said.
The bank representative told Pinney he couldn't reopen his account until he could prove he was alive. He went to the Social Security Administration's Office, where he spoke with an employee.
“He wasn't surprised,” Pinney said, “He was very professional about it, joked about it a little and said this happens occasionally.”
Of the approximately 2.8 million death reports the Social Security Administration receives per year, as many as 28,000 are incorrectly entered into its Death Master File, which contains the Social Security numbers, names, birth dates, death dates, zip codes and last-known residences of more than 89 million deceased Americans.
According to the website, Ancestry.com, which relies on information from Social Security, Pinney had been declared dead on November 21, 2007.
“When that started happening, when I was ‘dead’, there was a lot of joking, ‘Hey you look pretty good for a dead guy or you don't smell so bad for a dead guy!’” Pinney said.
He can laugh about it now, but there were some serious consequences.
Because he was listed as dead, Pinney stopped receiving his disability checks, his only source of income.
“What I had to do from there was get a note from my doctor, send a current picture and have notary republic say I was alive basically,” said Pinney.
In a June 2008 evaluation of the database the U.S. Inspector General said, "Erroneous death entries can lead to benefit termination, cause severe financial hardship and distress to affected individuals, and result in the publication of living individuals' [personal identifying information] in the [Death Master File]."
Social Security told Pinney it would resolve his problem and get him off the death list.
Six weeks later, he started receiving his disability checks again. He hasn't had any problems since.
But, he never received confirmation he was taken off the death list.
NBC 7 Investigates was the one who told him, he was still listed as "dead" according to the November 2011 list.
He says he was never told by the Social Security Office, how his name got there in the first place.
NBC 7 asked the Social Security Administration why Mark Pinney was still on their "death list."
By email they said, "By law we cannot provide you with specific case information. As stated, we have reviewed our records and the information on our end is correct. If an individual needs our assistance please provide us with their contact information and we will reach out to them."
Pinney said he doesn’t plan to take further action, since he hasn't had any problems since 2010.