Believe it or not, the newly deceased are a prominent target of identity theft thieves. This is because it can take upwards of six months for financial institutions, credit-reporting bureaus and the Social Security Administration to receive, communicate, or record death records, giving thieves ample time to make several purchases. This crime is called “ghosting” and is unfortunately gaining momentum.
According to National Crime Victimization, 16.6 million people were victims of identity theft in 2012 with nearly 2.5 million of these victims being deceased. This is roughly 2,200 deceased victims affected a day! These victims were targeted to open credit card accounts, loans and get cell phone and/or other services.
Why And How Do Thieves Target Deceased
After a family deals with the death of a loved one, the last thing on their minds is most likely not identity theft. Plus, with the six month lag time for information to get shared between institutions and the Social Security Administration, which provides plenty of time to add up debt.
Finding a deceased individual is pretty easy for thieves as well. They can scour obituaries or get information from hospitals or funeral homes. All they need is the person’s name, address and birth date and they can purchase the Social Security Number online. There are also other identifiers such as mother’s maiden name that is critical information for thieves as they provide personal identifiers.
Along with opening fraudulent loans and credit accounts, thieves will also file tax returns in the deceased person’s name to collect refunds. The IRS says this kind of fraud costs billions each year.
Relatives can go years without knowing there is additional debt opened in their loved one’s name. This makes deceased victims a prime target. The only good news is that you and other surviving members will not be responsible for these fraudulent charges.
How You Can Prevent This
Losing a loved one is hard. You shouldn’t have to deal with identity theft on top of this grief. You can take steps to prevent this from happening or catching the fraud soon after it happens. Here are some tips to follow:
- Start a list of finances, accounts, documents and belongings your loved one already has. Notify these institutions as soon as possible.
- Be sure to store personal documents in a safe place to prevent theft. Keep them under lock and key. Also place a limit on the number of people who can review these documents.
- When writing the obituary, list the age and not the birthdate or mother’s maiden name. These are prime targets for thieves. Also, do not include address as this could put a target on the home for a burglary.
- Look into using an identity theft protection service to organize and secure your loved one’s personal information. These services can cost as little as $10 a month.
- If you choose not to use an identity theft protection service, check your loved one’s credit report within a few weeks on annualcreditreport.com to check for suspicious activity and do it again six months later.
- Send copies of the death certificate to each credit-reporting bureau (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Use return receipt to ensure documents are received and request them to add a “deceased alert” on the credit report. You will need to contact these agencies in writing. You can also add that if an application is made for credit to notify the following person(s) and list the next surviving relative, executor of the estate and or local law enforcement. Be sure to note the relationship and include phone numbers for contact.
- Record the death immediately in the national death index and report to Social Security Administration by calling 800.772.1213. Also notify banks, insurance companies, credit card companies and financial advisors where the deceased loved one had accounts.
- Notify the DMV to cancel the deceased’s driver’s license. This will help ensure that no duplicates are made.
- Be sure to also contact other membership programs (library, fitness clubs, etc.), insurance companies (auto, life and health), Veteran’s Administration and/or any agencies if the deceased had a professional license such as bar association, medical boards or cosmetician programs.
With proper care, you can prevent another heartbreak. This is a hard time, and you and your family do not need to go through any more hardships. You can find additional information in our guide section.