YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The Ultimate Computer Victim Isn't Resting in Peace

May 25, 1986|FORMAN BROWN | Forman Brown lives in Hollywood.

I first became aware of my death last May when my checks began to bounce. Never having experienced bouncing checks before, and knowing that I had quite a respectable balance at the bank, I was both shocked and angry. When I examined the returned checks and found, stamped over my signature on each of them, in red ink, "Deceased," I was mystified. Then, when one of the recipients of my checks, a utility company, demanded that I appear in person, cash in hand plus $10 for their trouble-- their trouble!--I was shocked, angry and mystified. I wondered just how they expected us deceased to acquiesce.

I made an immediate visit to the bank, which had, I thought, been my friendly protector for 20 years or so. The young lady to whom I was assigned assured me that nothing like this had ever happened before, so it couldn't have happened now. But it had happened, and obviously the fault was not mine, since there I was, sitting before her desk, alive and, naturally, kicking.

The young lady was polite and apologetic but had not the foggiest notion of what was to be done. I suggested that she call on a higher authority, and with evident relief she directed me to Window 1, where I could speak with Mohammed. Mohammed? "Good Lord," I thought, "they have not only killed me, they are sending me to the wrong heaven."

However, I obliged, and sure enough, after some delay, Mohammed, banker personified, appeared at the window. I repeated my story, and his reaction was much the same as that of the young lady. He could in no way account for such a "mistake," a word I felt to be singularly inept for what his institution had done to me. He ventured that the fault must lie with the computer (a contrivance I have never understood or trusted) and assured me that all would be promptly righted, and I would be restored to the land of the living.

I went home, only slightly mollified, to rewrite the checks and a dozen explanations, including one to a friend in Michigan who had returned his check to the bank with quite a gratifying letter of condolence to my "estate," very flattering to my ego, but doing little for my annoyance.

I assumed now that I was alive and well until my June statement arrived from the bank and I found that there was no record of my Social Security payment, which for years had been automatically credited to my account on the third of each month. Mohammed and I met again, and it now appeared that whatever had killed me in the bank's computers had spread to those of the Social Security system as well.

I was advised to visit the local office of Social Security in person, to prove that I was, beyond a doubt, alive. Since this confusion was between the bank and Social Security, it seemed to me that a visitation by Mohammed rather than by me was in order. Nevertheless, I went.

After a long wait in line I was confronted by a woman who was neither polite nor apologetic, just certain that there was absolutely nothing amiss in her records.

When my July statement still showed no payment, I went off once again to the Social Security office. This time I encountered a true gentleman who was both polite and understanding. He wrote out in detail my sad story and assured me to be patient and all would be well.

Home I went, hoping that the worst was over. The bank agreed (what else could they do?) to credit my account each month with the amount of money due me from Social Security until such time as that agency admitted that I was alive and renewed my payments.

That happened seven months later, in December. I was relieved, and so, I guess, was the bank. All was well.

Or so I thought. Last week my phone rang. It was my doctor's secretary--my doctor who is both physician and friend. It appeared that Medicare had refused to accept his bill for services rendered me because the date of such services was six months later than the date of my decease. So now I am lost in one more computer system.

If I were 20, all this ado might be merely irritating, with my death possible but remote. At 85 it can only seem probable, and much too near. Ah well, at least after 20 years, they know me at the bank.

Los Angeles Times Articles