ROSEVILLE, Minn. – It is not every day you are informed of your own death. So imagine Steven Monno’s surprise when he received the news.

“I did not believe it at first when I found out,” said Monno as he filled a bin with carrots at his job as a produce stocker at Cub Foods in Roseville.

KARE 11 discovered Steven is one of an estimated 12,000 Americans each year who are mistakenly put on something called the Social Security Death Master File.

In spite of repeated complaints over the years, KARE 11 found that the Social Security Administration still does not fact check the death reports it receives.

That can spell big trouble for people wrongly declared dead.

Steven’s Story

Monno learned of his demise when his tax returns got bounced back. The IRS wrote they were unable to process his return because he “was deceased.”

Screen shot of Steven Monno's tax records.
Screen shot of Steven Monno's tax records.

“They told me I’m supposed to be dead,” said a frustrated Monno. “But if I was, I wouldn’t be standing here.”

Monno is not a man of many words, but the cancer survivor is very adamant that he is still alive.

“They can see I’m not dead,” he proclaimed numerous times while discussing his predicament with KARE 11.

Monno lives independently but has special needs. So Cindy McMurray, his sister, tried to help him get to the bottom of his unexplained death.

Records showing Steven Monno had died.
Records showing Steven Monno had died.

Looking online, she found information on a popular genealogy site indicating Steven died on May 5, 2010.

“That’s your date of birth, date of death” she said, showing Steven what she found.

“Damn,” Steven replied.

After numerous hang-ups and unsuccessful calls to the various government agencies, McMurray asked KARE 11 Investigates to help solve the mystery.

The Social Security Administration collects records of all deaths in the United States in order to help prevent fraudulent payments after people die. When the SSA puts a death entry into its records, it then shares that information with nine benefit paying Federal Agencies including the Internal Revenue Service and Medicare and Medicaid.

The problem is the agency doesn’t verify the deaths before entering them into its master database.

There are 2.8 million new death reports added to the Death Master File each year. Officials estimate that mistakes happen less than one percent of the time. But when they do it can wreak havoc on the victim’s life.

In fact, the impact of a mistake can spread far beyond the government. That’s because the Social Security Administration also sells its death records to credit agencies, banks and business groups.

Judy Rivers at Senate hearing.
Judy Rivers at Senate hearing.

During a Senate hearing last year, Judy Rivers testified that after she mistakenly was listed as dead she was “unable to find a job, an apartment, student loan or even buy a cellphone.”

“I would reach the point of hopelessness, homelessness, financial destitution, loss of reputation and credibility,” the Alabama woman said.

Records show the life-erasing blunders have been going on for years.

In 2011, the Social Security Administration’s Inspector General released an audit of the Death Master File. It found that from 2007 to 2010, 36,657 living people were prematurely declared dead.

That audit followed an earlier report in 2006 which also identified problems.

“It’s a very serious issue,” said Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI). He has co-authored a bill he hopes will fix the issue of death errors once and for all.

The proposal calls for increased accuracy and verification, along with measures to help victims like Judy Rivers and Steven Monno correct the fallout from the government’s mistake.

“It’s really trying to focus on forcing the Social Security Administration to provide a far more accurate Death Master File,” Johnson told KARE 11.

After Steven’s sister had tried – but failed – to get Social Security to correct the incorrect entry about his death, KARE 11 reached out to SSA’s media relations department.

That’s when the agency finally took quick action.

Within a week. Social Security officials removed Stephen’s name from the Death Master File and gave him a letter that shows he’s no longer deceased.

Steven Monno 
Steven Monno 

So next time you’re shopping at Cub Foods in Roseville, say hello to the man stocking your vegetables. And congratulate him on his resurrection.

“I showed them I’m not dead,” Steven said as he turned back to loading beans into a storage bin along the produce wall.