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Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Being dead is inconvenient, but she can’t afford to live

Zombies. They are everywhere, having multiple causes and origins. They are hard to eliminate, and more keep on coming. They live in a twilight world of life-death contradictions. One of my friends recently entered this nether world in bizarre fashion. An email from a major credit monitoring company stated she had been denied credit because she was dead. Told she could get further information by calling, she did, only to find that customer service couldn’t speak with her until she produced her death certificate. Conversation terminated! She had become a victim of some kind of identity theft compounded by a robotic and inefficient bureaucratic system response. Her reaction was one of confusion, concern and consternation. Friends generally reacted with nervous laughter (like laughing about the existence of zombies before you see or become one). She was offered much advice: call the sheriff, borrow money from friends, call the local TV station’s “Problem Solvers” program (my idea). Some advised simply ignoring the matter. But being dead is inconvenient when you can’t pay for sustenance. She did get a lawyer.
Her life took on a spooky quality. No credit. No apology. No corrections. No success in reviving her status. How do you prove you exist? The philosophical standard, “I think; therefore, I am,” becomes “I think … I am” — in zombie-speak. Oddly, her Social Security checks were regularly deposited in her bank account. Wouldn’t the Social Security Administration be among the first to become aware of a client’s death? ID theft is the fastest-growing crime in America, with more than 12 million victims in 2012. Often, cases take more than six months to resolve, but my friend’s case could take an eternity, since she is presumably deceased. While this situation may be unique, ID theft and related fraud has been the top consumer complaint to the Federal Trade Commission for the last 13 years. The IRS now has 3,000 full-time workers for ID theft matters to combat a 60 percent rise in problems over the last four years. Earlier this month, the IRS proposed a $5,000 fine for tax-related ID theft. The Identity Theft Assistance Center provides comprehensive information on all aspects of ID theft. The center cites a $17 billion cost over the period 2010-12 for the fraud. The Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book ranks Florida first nationally (by far) in the rate of ID fraud. Nine of the top 10 U.S. metro areas for this crime are in the Sunshine State. Miami ranks first, and Tampa is third. The office of Attorney General Pam Bondi maintains a comprehensive website enlightening citizens to the ID theft problem. There are precautions you can take to avoid this plague. You should order a free annual credit report from each of the three major credit monitoring services, Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. Further protection is available for a fee from independent companies that will check your credit data regularly. If you feel especially threatened, you may establish a credit freeze with the three monitoring companies, so that no credit information is given to anyone without your specific notification and approval. A temporary freeze-lift is available should you yourself apply for credit. Despite these precautions, other unnatural situations may arise. For instance, there is the case of in-vitro zombiism — wherein a friend of mine had a credit report issued before he was even born! There are societal, economic and psychological carriers for the growing epidemic of ID theft and fraud. But what also deserves serious study are problems ordinary humans have with automation and technology applied to every little corner of our private life. Regulations have not caught up with technical advances, placing the consumer at a disadvantage in dealing with mix-ups. Dexter Cook, an engineering alumnus from Stevens Insitute of Technology, notes that the supply of talented, competent software developers is finite. He predicts “the pace of technology and automation will exhaust the supply of talent in my lifetime. We will have many broken systems that consume more and more of the average person’s time and patience.” Zombies beget zombie software, sucking dry our humanity. What’s a girl to do?

Silvio Laccetti is a retired professor of history and social sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. Reach him at [email protected]

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