Social Security declares Arvada woman dead, takes nearly 18 months to correct mistake

ARVADA, Colo. -- An Arvada woman died about five years ago, but no one told her. And it came as quite a surprise to her late last year.

A mistake by the Social Security Administration put a death alert on Catherine's records -- and it caused problems in every area of her life. She asked her last name not be used.

Catherine never leaves her west Arvada home without a letter that is an official record of her resurrection from her supposed death.

"I do carry the letter, just in case," she said. "I was astounded. … I felt very much a ghost in my own society and it's a horrible feeling."

Her killer was the Social Security Administration.

Catherine learned she had died when she went to a Lakewood Department of Motor Vehicles office around Christmas 2015 to get a replacement ID card.

She learned SSA declared her dead in 2012 -- thanks to an errant computer keystroke.

"The person hit the wrong key and didn't check their work. So in 2012, all of the sudden, I was dead," she said.

And as the living dead, it created problems she couldn't have imagined.

"It's horrible. I couldn't get a license, no job, no social services, nothing. Everything in my life came to a screeching halt," she said.

And trying to fix the problem was just as frustrating as she got passed from the local SSA office to the national one and back.

"I couldn't get anybody to tell me what else I could do. So, a year and four months goes by of real hell," she said.

Until the FOX31 Problem Solvers got involved.

"Man, you guys, one phone call, two days later, I was in the Social Security office being helped. And it was taken care of the same day," Catherine said.

Now, she has her ID card. She feels like she has her life back.

"I feel much better because Social Security says 'I'm alive,'" she said.

Social Security killed her off, but it also brought her back.

"Yeah, I'm resurrected," Catherine said.

The Lakewood Social Security office apologized to Catherine for the inconvenience it caused. SSA spokesman John Bryant said mistakes like this are rare.

Of the 2.8 million deaths reported to SSA each year, less than 7,400, or one-third of 1 percent are incorrect. But it adds up to more than 600 people a month.