The IRS audited a friend of mine for filing a false estate tax return – the return filed by the heirs of a departed loved one. The reason they called it a fraudulent return was because the IRS claimed he had filed an estate tax return … for himself. To prove it wasn’t a fraudulent return, he had to prove he was dead. This Kafka-esque nightmare was resolved when it turned out the IRS attributed the actual dead person’s Social Security number to my friend.
So what happens if some crazy error like that happens regarding your credit card? What if your credit card company somehow thinks you are dead, or divorced when you are married, or married when you are single, or transposes numbers on your Social Security number, or some other very serious error?
First, do not panic. It’s a mistake and it will get fixed. It may take time and it may be frustrating. You may end up dealing with government bureaucracies or inexperienced customer reps at banks or credit card companies.
Be prepared with your documents
The best way to fix the problem is to be prepared for it. You should always have originals and copies of vital documents available for many purposes, not just this one. They may become necessary to prove you are who you say you are, and that you are, in fact, not dead. Here are the basics:
- Birth certificate: Ask your parents if they have one. Originals can usually be ordered from the hospital you were born at or a state agency or VitalCheck.
- Photo I.D.: Passports are best. Driver’s licenses are perfect. U.S. military ID cards work. Many ID cards are available through local and state authorities.
- Social Security Card, which is obtainable from the Social Security Administration.
- Employment pay stubs.
- Your most recent credit report.
- Your most recent utility bills.
- Your most recent bank statement.
- Insurance policies.
- Marriage certificates, divorce decrees.
Start with customer support
If you run into a problem with your credit card, here’s what you should do. First, call the regular customer support line. Explain the problem and, as always, if you aren’t getting anywhere, escalate to a supervisor.
The goal of your call is to establish the opposite of what your credit card claims. Hopefully, they catch their own mistake. If not, they may require some proof. You want to establish exactly what they need and exactly where to send the proof. Tell them to make detailed notes in your file, while you are on the phone, and have them read that back to you. You want to make certain that every last detail is clear on their end. If they messed up something like this so badly, then you need to hold their hand to set it right.
Send that material via certified mail, return receipt requested, so you know they received it. Then follow up every single day until the matter is resolved. If it hasn’t been fixed within two weeks, escalate the matter.
Take your problem to headquarters
The next stop is the corporate headquarters. Ask the operator for someone who can help. They should get you to a vice president of some kind who will tackle the problem. If the operator doesn’t know, aim for the VP of Media Relations or Communications. Although they aren’t the right people, I have found those departments to be particularly responsive to just about everything. They know that, in the Internet age, a huge mistake can become the next viral blog post. That would harm the company, so they are likely to get you to the right VP.
Remember though, a crisis is only becomes a crisis if you aren’t prepared. Stay prepared and it will minimize your headache.
Correction image via Shutterstock