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Wells Fargo now agrees with Oregon woman: she’s not dead after all

OregonLive.com logo OregonLive.com 10/23/2020 Mike Rogoway, oregonlive.com

Welcome back, Judy Cashner.

Notified of her own death last summer by Wells Fargo, the Lincoln City woman is again among the living. The bank sent Cashner a letter this month acknowledging its blunder and apologizing. Wells Fargo also cut Cashner a $200 check for her trouble, noting that its screw-up had disrupted her efforts to refinance her home.

“We are very sorry for the inconvenience and any frustration this caused you,” Anna Duran, a Wells Fargo representative, wrote in a letter to Cashner explaining what went wrong.

Cashner said she accepts the bank’s explanation and apology but wishes Wells Fargo had been more responsive when she first notified it of the mistake – and Cashner remains frustrated the bank incorrectly blamed her husband for falsely reporting her death.

“I don’t like the way I was treated,” said Cashner, 76. “Especially certain ones of them insisting it was my husband who called. That was really, really annoying. And then when they found out that it wasn’t, well, Anna apologized. That was good. But most of them didn’t seem to care.”

Cashner’s experience appears unusual but it is certainly not unique. The Social Security Administration erroneously reports several thousand deaths a year and The Oregonian/OregonLive has spoken with three other Oregon residents whose banks incorrectly reported them dead.

There doesn’t appear to be an easy way to rectify such mistakes. In each situation, people say they had to go to some lengths before their banks restored them to life – and, sometimes, before the banks would restore access to their money.

In Cashner’s case, the saga began in August with a letter from Wells Fargo expressing condolences over her death. The bank then told credit reporting agencies that Cashner had died, which in turn blocked her plans to refinance her home to pay for a new septic system.

Cashner said she had a succession of unsatisfying phone conversations with the bank’s customer service personnel before ultimately being directed to a local branch, where she appeared in person with identification that served as proof of life.

Though Cashner said Wells Fargo had blamed her husband for falsely reporting her death, the bank refused to provide any evidence that he had in fact made the call or explain why the bank hadn’t followed its usual procedures for verifying a death with a Social Security number and official death certificate.

After The Oregonian/OregonLive inquired about her case, though, Wells Fargo promised an immediate investigation. This month’s letter provided a partial explanation.

According to the bank, Cashner called Wells Fargo on July 20 to discuss the interest rate on her account. The customer service agent she spoke with then received another call from a different customer calling to notify the bank his wife had died.

“The employee erroneously placed the information about the death of this customer’s wife in your account record,” the bank wrote. The letter did not explain why the bank did not require a death certificate or Social Security number to verify Cashner’s passing, but Wells Fargo said it is continuing to scrutinize the case.

“While we appreciate Mrs. Cashner bringing her concern to our attention, we regret it was necessary for her to do so,” Wells Fargo spokesman David Kennedy said in a written statement.

“It is very important to Wells Fargo that our customers have a positive experience with us,” Kennedy wrote. “If we make a mistake, we work closely with the affected customer to correct our error, make it right for our customer and learn from our mistake to prevent it from happening again.”

Because Wells Fargo is a federally chartered bank, Oregon state regulators don’t have oversight authority. They referred questions to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which didn’t respond to requests for comment in September or October. Regardless, under federal law people always have the right to challenge mistakes on their credit report.

CNBC reported in 2017 that the Social Security Administration incorrectly records 6,000 deaths a year, which may sound like a lot but appears to be half the number of incorrect deaths reported a few years earlier.

Portland resident Janet van Dorn said her bank, Citi, incorrectly reported her death this year and locked her out of $16,000 in her account. After The Oregonian/OregonLive inquired with Citi about her case last month, the bank promised her a prompt response and ultimately sent her a check for the $16,000 on Oct. 15 – nearly two months after telling her she had died.

Going forward, van Dorn said she regrets that Citi didn’t do more to resolve the situation, adding she will be much less trustful of banks and other financial institutions.

“While I am delighted to FINALLY get the money, it would have been nice if they had paid me interest on the money during all the time they had it!” she wrote in an email.

Monica Williams in Eugene had a similar problem with Bank of America. That bank notified her of her death in July and Williams said it took many hours on the phone with customer service personnel to convince them that she remains upright and to restore her account.

“Unfortunately, due to a reporting error, the status on the account was marked as deceased,” Bank of America spokeswoman Britney Sheehan said in an email.

However, the time Williams spent among the dead – however brief – somehow disrupted federal Supplemental Security Income disability payments Williams receives for her children’s father.

“Long story short, I’m still dead,” Williams wrote in an email. She said Bank of America has given her $500 for inconveniencing her but she hasn’t been able to convince the Social Security Administration, which runs the disability payments program, that she is still alive.

“There are no blocks on the account that would prevent the deposit of a Social Security checks,” Sheehan said. “We recommend that the client reach out directly to SSA to request that they redeposit the payments.”

The Social Security Administration did not respond to a request for comment on Williams' predicament and the payments still haven’t resumed.

“It is really hard to undead me with Social Security,” Williams lamented.

Back in Lincoln City, Cashner said that despite lingering frustration with Wells Fargo she is satisfied with the resolution of her own case, the $200 the bank sent her and its apology. She’s ready to put it behind her and resume her life.

“It’s a fine ending. It’s over. And I got 200 bucks,” Cashner said. "I took my friends out for dinner the other night and I said, ‘This is on Wells Fargo.’ "

-- Mike Rogoway 5/8  mrogoway@oregonian.com  5/8 twitter: @rogoway  5/8 503-294-7699

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©2020 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)

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