WNY takes electronic route to keep living NY’ers off death list

TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WIVB) – It happens thousands of times a year—living, breathing Americans find out their government has declared them dead.

Nancy Pipalski of North Tonawanda knows firsthand how it can affect your life, “I am alive and my family, they are worried about me and so are my friends because I have really taken this badly. I am very upset.”

It can happen to just about anyone. The Social Security Administration mistakenly enters the names of living people, such as Pipalski, in the agency’s Death Master File, and they have to fight to get their lives back.

Widow Marilyn Emerson of Amherst had just lost her husband, and it appears someone might have mistaken Emerson for her husband’s demise, “It is not a very nice feeling, especially when your husband has just passed away and you are now all by yourself.”

Getting your name in the Death Master File by mistake is beyond nightmarish–bank accounts are closed, insurance policies are cancelled, your credit gets trashed, and then you have to prove you are alive.

Social Security has cut the number of errors in its Death Master File, drastically, in the last few years, due in large part by upgrading their reporting procedures to an Electronic Death Registration System, or EDRS.

Parts of Western New York are supposed to start filing death certificates electronically, Monday, but we are just catching up. In the Tonawanda Town Clerk’s office, Deputy Registrar Amy Rentz expects much improvement in death reporting across Upstate New York, “Definitely more accurate, I want to say.”

The Town of Tonawanda joins New York’s EDRS Monday, but Tonawanda is one of the few reporting agencies in Western New York that will be joining the electronic reporting system Monday.

Forty-two states have adopted the EDRS, New York City has been in the system for years, and Upstate New York is slowly being phased in.

Rentz said, the way EDRS is set up, reporting agencies such as hospitals and nursing homes will file their information electronically, and any mistakes will be detected automatically, similar to the Spellcheck program in computers.

“Through EDRS, there is not going to be errors like that anymore. Before it even gets to the funeral director the doctor will have to have it completed correctly.”

Ironically, the electronic death reporting system might not have made a difference for Nancy Pipalski or Marilyn Emerson, but there is one area where it could, fraud.

Millions of dollars are stolen each year, as scammers hijack the identities of those who have passed away, using stolen Social Security Numbers to steal from the government, private businesses, and consumers.

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