Madeline-Michelle Carthen has a unique dilemma. Despite obviously being very much alive, the 52-year-old from St. Louis, Missouri, has been dead on paper since 2007.
"It's like a haunting," she told KSDK-TV, a local outlet, as she stressed how the mix-up destroyed her life as she knew it.
From getting and keeping jobs to buying a house or graduating from college, the roadblock has become more of a dead end in many ways.
At the time, then-Madeline Coburn was a college student majoring in business technology and entrepreneurship. Things took a sharp turn as she prepared for a summer internship in Ghana and found out her Social Security number listed her as deceased.
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Madeline-Michelle Carthen is a Missouri woman who was mistakenly declared dead in 2007. (Photo courtesy of Madeline-Michelle Carthen)
"I said, ‘What do you mean? I’m sitting right here. I’ve been at school over a year and a half. … How am I dead? Is this going to affect my international internship?’" she told NBC News.
Eventually Carthen was denied financial aid and had to withdraw from school.
"They’re saying, ‘Prove to us you’re not dead,'" she told KSDK in 2007, later lamenting, "It messed up my whole life."
Sixteen years later, she's still fighting to end the curse and prove she's alive, but to no avail.
But erroneous death reports could happen to anyone, and it has happened to others. Using the character "Mary," a report from the Social Security and the Advisory Board offered a hypothetical example of how this could happen.
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People line up outside the Social Security Administration office February 2, 2005, in San Francisco, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
"Mary is a Medicare recipient who was recently hospitalized due to illness. In processing the hospital paperwork from Mary’s stay, an employee of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) misreads the entry for Date of Discharge from the hospital as Date of Death and records the erroneous death of Mary on the CMS system of records," the document explained.
"As part of a data-sharing agreement with SSA, that erroneous death report is provided to the agency without proof and is posted to the numident. Mary’s Social Security benefits are suspended, and she would need to visit her local field office to have the error corrected. She would be given a letter from SSA to share with banks and other entities that states she is alive and has been mistakenly recorded on the DMF," it continued.
Additionally, the report's executive summary highlights many of the "severe" consequences Carthen claims she's faced for years, including "denial of credit or employment" and "bank account closures."
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Carthen said the IRS master file listed her as deceased, exacerbating the problems. (Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
In such events, the Social Security Administration (SSA) urges people wrongfully declared deceased to head to their local Social Security office with proper ID in hand, including a passport, a driver's license, a school ID or employee ID card, among others.
According to NBC's report, Carthen reached out to the SSA and obtained a death erroneous letter to hand over to creditors as proof she was still alive, but her problems didn't cease.
"It got worse, because it wasn’t creditors. Being in the death master file, it went to the IRS, it went to the Department of Homeland Security, it went to E-verify, all of these things. It just started affecting my life," she told the outlet.
"I just know I'm alive. I don't care what A.I. says or software says, but I'm alive," she also said. "But it's hard to prove that."
Fox News Digital reached out to the Social Security Administration for comment, but did not immediately hear back.
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Taylor Penley is an associate editor with Fox News.