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Man ‘shocked’ by letter from Canada Revenue Agency declaring him dead

The Canada Revenue Agency headquarters in Ottawa is shown on Nov. 4, 2011.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

A 64-year-old New Brunswick man says he is very much alive, despite being declared dead by the Canada Revenue Agency.

Peter Harwerth of Campobello Island said he was stunned to receive a letter from the agency a few days ago that was addressed to the "estate of the late Peter Harwerth."

"That kind of baffled us, we were shocked," Harwerth said. "We just couldn't believe what we were looking at."

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He said the letter was a regular tax reassessment, but the problem was he and his wife had not yet received their original assessment after the taxes were filed last year.

He said their accountant had estimated Harwerth would receive a refund of about $1,100, but the assessment he received said he owed more than $500. The letter also informed him that he had already received the refund, even though he had not.

Harwerth's wife was also due to receive a refund but had received nothing yet. She had also not received a letter asking her to pay back any money.

"When we called Revenue Canada, it turned out that both of our refund cheques had been cashed previously, only a few days after they had been issued," Harwerth said.

He said they are now expecting photocopies of the cashed cheques so they can verify that the signatures were not theirs.

Revenue Canada is investigating the matter, Harwerth said. But it wasn't able to explain why the letter was addressed to his estate.

In an email, the agency said it identifies a taxpayer as deceased when it receives confirmation of death from another government department, lawyer, executor, beneficiary or family member.

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"Despite safeguards to ensure accuracy of our files, occasionally information we receive is incorrect or misinterpreted, or human error can occur during the processing of a taxpayer's information," the statement reads.

In 2015, it says dates of death were recorded in error in 0.09 per cent of all reported deaths.

Tax professional Ann LaFrance said there are ways to prevent such errors. She said people should make sure their name is spelled properly, their birth date is correct and that any children are on the file.

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