5 On Your Side

Social Security Mishap Leaves Clayton Man Without Benefits

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CLAYTON, N.C. — Each Social Security card has a different number and belongs to a different person. Paul Bene still has his original card from 1954, but the government said the number on it is not his anymore.

"I don't think I should be penalized because the government made a mistake," Bene said.

Bene found out about the mistake in 2004, when he noticed his wife got yearly Social Security statements, but he did not. When he checked into it, Bene found out his number was mistakenly used once years ago with another person's Medicare account.

When that person died, so did the number. Bene thought the solution was simple.

"Correct his record and give me my number back and that's what I thought would happen," he said. "And she said, 'No, you can't have that number because it's dead now.' I said, 'Well, I'm gonna fight this.'"

Bene is so adamant because so much of his life is attached to that number.

"All our checking accounts, all our insurance accounts, all my savings accounts has this number on it," he said.

Bene kept calling the Social Security Administration and after a couple of months, got a letter saying he could use either number -- the two were now "cross referenced." But when Bene went to the Smithfield office to apply for Medicare, he said the branch supervisor told him he could not use his original number and could not fix the mistake.

"I said, 'Well, give me a reason you can't do that,' and he said it was easier the other way," he said.

So Bene called Five On Your Side, who called Social Security Area Director Ernestine Durham.

She said it happened to start with because Bene's number was mistakenly used in 1969 and has been "inactive" in the benefits database since then. Durham said the employer deposits database is separate, so the problem would not show up until Bene applied for benefits.

Durham fixed Bene's record and had the incorrect person's name wiped off for good, which is what Bene wanted all along.


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