Identity Theft: Here’s Why Your Deceased Loved Ones Are at Risk

Banks Editorial Team · November 17, 2017

When we grieve the death of a loved one, the last thing we want to do is take care of logistics — but sometimes logistics are important.

In this case, they can help prevent identity theft.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, criminals steal the identities of almost 2.5 million deceased Americans each year. By doing so, they fraudulently access services, open credit card accounts, and apply for loans.

This practice is known as “ghosting.” Since the dead don’t monitor their credit, many identity thieves take advantage of the situation and target the deceased. Act quickly to protect your family.

Contact Relevant Organizations

When a relative dies, the Social Security Administration will eventually share that information with the credit bureaus. This can take time, however, and identity thieves will not hesitate to prey on the grief of family members.

So, to protect a deceased relative from identity theft, call the Social Security Administration as soon as possible. Then, using certified mail with “return receipt,” send copies of your relative’s death certificate to each of the three credit bureaus. You can ask them to place a “deceased alert” on the person’s credit report, which will help prevent identity theft by raising a red flag should any criminal activity occur.

After relaying the details surrounding your loved one’s passing, make sure to close any individual accounts, and remove the deceased’s name from any joint accounts. You should also contact the IRS and the Department of Motor Vehicles. Cancel your loved one’s driver’s license to prevent duplicates from being issued to identity thieves.

Minimize Personal Identifiers in the Deceased’s Obituary

Sometimes identity thieves skim through obituaries to locate their next victim. To keep criminal activity at bay, and to help prevent this unfortunate practice, avoid sharing too much information in your loved one’s obituary.

You can list your relative’s age, but avoid including their date of birth or their mother’s maiden name — many criminals use these details to commit fraud. Do not include anything in the deceased’s obituary that you would not feel comfortable sharing with a stranger. If another relative is writing the obituary, make sure to share this information with them.

Secure Any Personal or Financial Documentation

The deceased leave a number of important documents behind, and it’s crucial that grieving survivors locate these forms. Doing so will reduce your family’s chances of falling victim to identity theft. Gather the deceased’s wallet and ID, along with their bank statements and any hospital records. If there’s even the slightest chance that the document contains confidential information, store it somewhere safe.

Similarly, maintain your relative’s digital privacy by making sure their computer is password-protected.

Do Not Inherently Trust Other Family Members

The unfortunate truth is that some family members have been caught stealing the identity of a deceased loved one. If your relatives struggle with addiction, or if they have serious financial problems, they may feel like their hands are tied. In some cases, they believe they have no choice but to commit fraud.

For this reason, it’s important to monitor those who have access to your deceased relative’s personal papers. Stay alert to suspicious activity. Even if you take all the right steps shortly after a loved one’s passing, you must remain cautious in the months that follow. If your relative dies without identity theft protection — without having invested in credit monitoring — consider pulling their credit report both two and six months after their passing. Stay vigilant until their estate closes.

Take care of your loved ones, even after death.

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