A 76-year-old Salem woman received some shocking news from the US Social Security department, that she was declared deceased in February. 

However, Cynthia Buckman is very much alive, and has been fighting for months to get her official status changed.

Buckman was told in mid-March by the Social Security Administration that her death was caused by a typo from the SSA office.

The typo caused a series of events to automatically happen, including stopping her monthly Social Security payments, her Medicare health insurance, and bank accounts to be locked and more.

When a person is pronounced dead, the Social Security Administration adds that person's name, date of birth and death and Social Security Number on its weekly Death Master File (DMF) which is public record, and part of the DMF goes immediately to Do Not Pay Portal, which contains the person name, taxpayer identification number and more.

Buckman called her local Social Security office for Columbiana County in East Liverpool, who was able to get her Social Security check sent last month. But before Buckham received the check, it was canceled, leaving her without her funds for a second month. 

Buckman, frustrated by the situation, contacted her congressman and the regional Social Security Office in Chicago but felt the office that was able to declare her dead quickly was unable to fix the mistake after months of trying.

“This should not have happened to anyone. I refer to it as the nightmare,” Buckman said. “It hasn't been pleasant at all.”

21 News called the Social Security Office in East Liverpool, but was told that the Regional Office would have to speak to us on the mistake.

The Regional Office for Ohio is in Chicago, and we reached out to find out how often mistakes like this happen and what is the fix for the problem.

Vonda Van Til, the Regional Public Affairs Specialist for the Social Security Administration in the Chicago Region office sent 21 News a written response to our inquiry that reads, "We are unable to discuss individual cases due to privacy laws.  However, we can share that approximately 3 million deaths are reported to the Social Security Administration each calendar year and our records are highly accurate.  Of these millions of death reports we receive each year, less than one-third of 1 percent are subsequently corrected."

The Do Not Pay sheet states "If a payee is incorrectly listed in the DMF, inquiries or data disputes must be conducted via the payee’s local Social Security office as soon as possible. To find the correct local office, call the U.S. Social Security Administration at:
(800) 772-1213 or visit the Social Security website."

The emailed response said that deaths are reported to Social Security primarily from the states, but also from other sources, including family members, representative payees, funeral homes, other Federal agencies, and financial institutions. 

So what should you do if you or a family member is listed incorrectly as deceased on their Social Security record?

  • Contact your local Social Security office as soon as possible. 
  • Be prepared to bring at least one piece of current, original form of identification.
  • Social Security office can provide a letter that the error has been corrected that can be shared with other organizations.

As for Buckman, she said she just recently got her check for her April benefits and has been re-enrolled in her medial insurance, but is still waiting on her check for the March benefits.