‘I go to the DMV one day and boom’: West Ashley man mistakenly declared dead

Shane Melton, who lives in West Ashley, received a big surprise during what should have been a routine visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 11:55 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 27, 2023 at 7:35 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Shane Melton, who lives in West Ashley, received a big surprise during what should have been a routine visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Melton learned he is a dead man walking.

“There’s just nothing I can do,” he says.

The Social Security Administration incorrectly declared him dead, he says. He discovered this when he went to renew his driver’s license. Instead, he was shuffled into a back room and was accused of impersonating a dead man and stealing his identity, Melton says.

“They started interrogating me saying I was deceased and told me they’re going to call the cops on me,” he says. “They confiscated my ID, so I left.”

Melton says this initially didn’t seem like a major issue, but then he was laid off from his job.

“This has upended our entire lives,” his wife, Morgan Key, says.

Because the government considers him dead, Melton says companies won’t hire him. The family even had to move in with his parents to cut costs.

“He’s done interviews, job interviews, and everything,” Key says. “He’s doing everything that he can to get that job but they just can’t hire him legally.”

Being incorrectly declared dead can cause a lengthy list of problems, according to attorney Mark Bringardner.

“That’s going to prevent you from being able to take out a loan, apply for a job, pass any sort of background check, and your credit score will instantly go to zero,” he says. “So, that will present a whole host of challenges that can’t be fixed overnight and will take several months, if not longer, to fix between submitting the paperwork to the social security administration, as well as the credit score company to restore your credit.”

This issue is not uncommon, Bringardner says.

“It’s estimated this happens between 6,000 to 12,000 times a year or more, so that’s roughly 20 to 30 people a day,” he says. “Usually that occurs because of a clerical error at the Social Security Administration office, a hospital, a doctor’s office, or somebody filling out a form incorrectly and checking the wrong box.”

Catching and correcting the problem quickly is key, Bringardner says.

“Anyone who’s been wrongfully declared dead by the social security administration should contact them immediately and try to submit the paperwork,” he says.

But Melton says he’s gone to the social security office three times with various paperwork. He says the issue is the items the Social Security Administration can use to prove he’s alive either require a valid ID to obtain, like a passport or certified medical records, or only apply to certain people, such as military records or a church membership.

Melton says he doesn’t have an ID, any of the other documents or a path forward—leaving him frustrated and trying to fix what seems like an unfixable mistake he didn’t make.

“It can happen to anybody,” he says. “I never thought it would happen to me until I go to the DMV one day and boom, I’m dead. There’s nothing I can do about it. I didn’t cause the problem and they’re pretty much making me fix the problem when it’s impossible fix.”

The Social Security Administration did not respond to a request for comment.

Some additional advice from Bringardner: make sure you’re periodically checking your credit report to ensure this same mistake hasn’t happened to you. If it does, be prepared to involve a lawyer to help sort things out, especially your credit.