Even after a loved one dies, they’re still not safe from identity theft or more specifically “ghosting.”
It’s reported that $2.5 million deceased Americans become victims of fraud – anything from new credit cards and loan applications to new utilities and cell phone accounts. Just when the family is dealing with their loss, before they’ve even touched the probate issue, they now have to take additional steps to protect their loved ones.
How does it happen?
We give our loved one’s identity to the world on a silver platter. For starters, most of the important identifying information can be found in the obituary.
- Full birth name and married name
- Mother’s maiden name
- Home town
- Date of birth
- Nearest relatives and their relationships to the deceased
- Last place of employment
It’s been reported that thieves take this information and purchase the deceased’s social security number for $10 from the Social Security Office’s Death Master File. With that, they have everything needed to set up new accounts, all while the family is still grieving.
You might be thinking, “Why do I care? It can’t come back on us because the person is dead.” Well, by using your loved one’s information, they can take yours as well. Remember, your name is in the paper too, listing how you’re related to everyone in your family, your probable home town, and your approximate age. At the very least, it will cause the surviving family members stress when new bills arrive at the house along with collection calls.
What can you do about it?
- Limit the information listed in the obituary column – in this case less is more
- Send copies of death certificates to all three credit reporting agencies, as well as to the banks, investment firms and credit card companies used by the deceased. Ask them to place a “deceased alert” on all accounts – this is especially important if they’re going to stay open until probate is completed.
- When closing accounts (including utilities, phone, cable, rental services, etc.), ask them to tag the account as “account closed – holder is deceased.” That way, the account will be flagged as permanently closed. Closing an account may seem final enough, but it’s not. All paid services want you to continue service, so they won’t question a reopen request unless the word “deceased” is on the file.
- Report the death to Social Security. If you let it go through normal processes, it can take months – in that time, an identity thief will have set up hundreds of accounts in your loved one’s name.
- Cancel the deceased Driver’s License through your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, so that duplicates will not be issued
Since deceased people don’t check their credit, I would recommend that you request a copy of their credit report from one of the three credit reporting agencies about a month after you’ve taken the above steps – just to double check their account status. Then check again a few months later.
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