Imagine someone stealing from a loved one after they have died. Tragically, that is happening millions of times a year because of unfeeling, manipulative identity thieves.
Not content to just prey on the living, identity thieves will scour obituaries in newspapers and scan hospital and funeral home records to come up with enough information to assume a deceased person’s identity. They’ll then turn around and file for tax return refunds, or open credit card accounts using their social security number.
Fraud security experts estimate that billions of dollars are lost annually to those pretending to be someone else who has died. It’s a lowly crime, but there are ways to guard against it.
If you experience the loss of a loved one, the last thing you expect to be confronted with is fallout from identity theft. But should it occur, one of the first things you should do is notify those entities that the deceased had financial dealings with, such as credit card companies, financial advisors, the Social Security Administration, and banks. Most, if not all of them, will require that you submit official death certificates.
The nation’s three credit reporting bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – will also need to be notified and will need official certificates, too. Otherwise, your loved one’s accounts will remain open after their death, and could stay open for up to 10 years, even without activity, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, a non-profit organization founded to provide victim assistance and consumer education regarding ID crimes.
The agency recommends notifying entities by telephone and then following up calls with written correspondence. Mail all correspondence certified, with a return receipt requested. And keep copies of all documentation, including letters that you send.
Other suggestions for preventing identity theft after death include:
- Limiting the amount of information placed in published obituaries. For instance, only list the age of your deceased loved one, not their birth date. And avoid including maiden names or other personal information that thieves could take advantage of.
- Check your loved one’s credit reports a few months after they have died to see if any attempts have been made to steal their identity. If something appears suspicious, report it immediately to the credit reporting bureau that issued the report.
- Gather any documents or items containing a deceased loved one’s financial or personal information and store it in a secure place. These documents include, but are not limited to, bank statements, military records, pension statements, hospital records, and even wallets.
- In addition, make sure your loved one’s computer is password protected to restrict access to similar sensitive information, and limit the number of people who have access to it. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for family members and friends who are experiencing financial difficulties to steal the identity of a deceased loved one in order to get themselves out of financial distress.