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Software Flaw Marks Living Deceased

February 3, 1999

EL PASO, Texas (AP) _ People across the country are finding some disturbing information when they open their W-2 forms: They’ve been declared dead.

The problem appears to be that employers used new W-2 forms with old computer software programs. As a result, an ``X″ that should have been printed in the ``pension″ box appeared in the space denoting ``deceased.″

At New Mexico State University, hundreds of employees opened their tax forms this week to find an ``X″ printed under the word ``deceased.″

The same thing happened last week to 13,000 city employees in Dallas.

In Saratoga Springs, N.Y., 350 municipal employees were listed as ``deceased″ on their W-2′s. In Dickson, Okla., school teachers were checked off as dead. In Muscogee County, Ga., the tax forms of 6,000 school employees had the fatal flaw. And in Fargo, N.D., state university workers were victims.

``We’re still trying to find out ... what, if anything, taxpayers need to do about it,″ Steve Pyrek, an Internal Revenue Service spokesman in Washington, said Tuesday.

Pyrek said he didn’t know if employers were warned that they shouldn’t use last year’s software with this year’s form.

Employers dealing with the mistake say it shouldn’t pose a problem for processing tax returns because the IRS gets the data off computer tapes.

``We don’t mail the paper copies to the IRS,″ said Mick Pytlik, director of financial systems for the North Dakota state university system. ``We actually submit computer tape to the IRS, and that tape is correct.″

Saratoga Springs Mayor J. Michael O’Connell said ``one of the local funeral directors even called me up to offer a special group rate.″

Robert Pennington, an assistant professor of journalism at New Mexico State, asked: ``Can we collect on our life insurance?″

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