Laurie Villarreal learned of her daughter's "death" in an email from the Internal Revenue Service.
The federal agency rejected Villarreal's 2012 tax return because, it said, the Social Security number she entered for her daughter was associated with a dead person.
Thinking she had entered the wrong Social Security number, Villarreal filed again.
Again, the IRS rejected her return, saying that according to federal records, her daughter was dead.
Needless to say, Villarreal, of Wauconda, was a bit confused.
Her 15-year-old daughter, Jasmine Martinez, is very much alive.
"Apparently, she was (listed as) deceased in California," Villarreal said. "That's what I was told."
Unsure how to make things right, Villarreal asked for an extension to file her taxes, then visited the Social Security office in Waukegan, with her daughter in tow.
She provided her daughter's fingerprints, birth certificate, Social Security card and school ID. She was told it would take up to two months to get a copy of the death certificate from California, and an additional four to six weeks to correct the error in the computer system.
Months passed and Villarreal heard nothing from Social Security.
She called again, and was told some of the paperwork was missing. She submitted a fresh batch of paperwork in September, but again heard nothing in return.
When Villarreal emailed What's Your Problem? in early November, she still hadn't heard a word about her daughter's status from Social Security.
"My extension for filing (federal taxes) has now passed," she said. "I am at a loss of what to do or who I can go to for help."
She said that until Social Security sets things right, she cannot file her federal taxes because she cannot claim her daughter as a dependent. Her refund is supposed to be about $5,000, she said.
Villarreal said she has filed her taxes the past 14 years using the same Social Security number for Martinez. She has no idea why it showed up as "deceased" this year.
"I've done everything I can to provide them with proof that she's alive and kicking," Villarreal said. "When I filed with the state, the state accepted it. It's the same number on there."
The Problem Solver called Carmen Moreno, a spokeswoman for the Social Security Administration. It took Moreno several weeks to obtain the death certificate in question from the state of California, but it arrived late last week.
"Reports of death are received by Social Security from a variety of sources," Moreno said in an email Monday morning. "The death information is posted to our records to stop benefits that are being paid and/or to prevent fraud. We received information that Jasmine Martinez was deceased."
But upon further review, Social Security determined that the person who died was not the same Jasmine Martinez.
"We requested and received the death certificate that indicated that a child with the same name and date of birth as Jasmine Martinez had died," Moreno said. "After further investigation we determined that the child in question is not deceased. We corrected our records and the death information is no longer on Jasmine's record."
Villarreal said Monday she is relieved, but her battle isn't over. She now must go back to the IRS and refile her tax return.
"It's already past due," she said. "And I'm going to get charged penalties."
Villarreal said she's still steamed that it took Social Security so long to straighten out matters.
"It took almost a year to do this," she said. "Why didn't they take care of it with me a long time ago?"
The Problem Solver will provide updates on Villarreal's dealings with the IRS.
"We'll see if they do it without any hassles," she said.