February 20, 2014

Kimberly Haman wants people to know that reports of her death are greatly exaggerated

In this instance, it’s not a newspaper or TwitterTWTR -4.83% account that has apparently jumped the gun with a premature death report. Ms. Haman, a 46-year-old St. Louis homeowner, claims she spent months trying and failing to convince her local bank and a major credit reporting company that she’s alive.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Missouri last week, Ms. Haman claims she was plunged into a Kafkaesque black hole of credit unworthiness after a routine trip to the bank.

Seeking to add herself to her parents’ joint checking account as an authorized user, Ms. Haman filled out a credit application last February at the instruction of a local branch of Heartland Bank, which has locations in the St. Louis and Denver metropolitan areas. (It’s not to be confused with an Illinois-based bank of the same name.)

But weeks later Ms. Haman, who was also at the time applying for a new mortgage, discovered that her application for refinancing was put on hold because Heartland was reporting her as “deceased” on an EquifaxEFX +0.26% credit report, according to her lawsuit, which was reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

An Equifax spokesperson said: “Equifax reports consumer account information as provided by its furnishers, which are banks, retailers, credit card companies, etc. We do not create data on consumers. Because of ongoing litigation, we are unable to comment further.”

A spokesman for Heartland provided Law Blog with a statement explaining what they think went wrong: “As soon as Ms. Haman advised us of the problem, we investigated the cause of the issue. We immediately contacted the credit reporting agencies in April, 2013 to advise them of the problem, but, unknown to Heartland Bank, the communication to the credit reporting agency did not resolve the reporting error,” the spokesman for the bank said. “We have since taken additional steps to correct this issue, and it is Heartland’s intent to work with the customer relative to any inconvenience this may have caused.”

Ms. Haman says Heartland assured her in April that it would fix the mistake. But by the end of June, her mortgage application got turned down because her existence (aliveness?) was still not reflected in her credit report, according to her lawsuit.

“Dear Kimberly Haman,” wrote the lender. (A copy of the letter appears below.) “We regret to inform you that we are unable to proceed with you loan as of today June 20, 2013. The reason for your denial is that your status from Equifax is reporting you as deceased.”

She then contacted Equifax about her predicament, the suit claims. A half a year had gone by since that fateful trip to the bank, she says, but the grim reaper was still haunting her finances. Ms. Haman in August was denied a credit card for the same reason, according to her lawsuit.

“The entire experience has imposed upon Plaintiff significant distrust, frustration and distress,” the suit says, “and has rendered Plaintiff hopeless as to her ability to regain her good name and the credit rating that she deserves and has worked hard to earn.” Her lawyers say Ms. Haman works as a financial services supervisor.

The suit alleges that Heartland and Equifax violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act by failing to properly look into the problem. The statute governs the accuracy of credit information circulated about consumers and establishes a process to investigate consumer disputes.

“We don’t know specifically where the breakdown is,” Sylvia Goldsmith, an attorney who represents Ms. Haman, told Law Blog. “Both of her parents are still living as well.”

Heartland’s slogan, by the way, is “Real Life. Banking.”