Deceased Identity Theft

Losing a loved one is a traumatic event.  Those who are left behind have several things to deal with, such as learning to live with the loss, settling the decedent’s estate, etc.  Add one more item to the list – protecting their identity from thieves.

A recent article from the AARP Bulletin shares some startling statistics.  Each year, thieves use the identities of approximately 2.5 million deceased Americans to fraudulently open credit cards, purchase items, and obtain loans, among other things.  They obtain the information they need from hospitals, funeral homes, and obituaries.  With the information they glean, they can literally purchase the deceased person’s social security number off the internet for a small fee.

How can you prevent this from happening?  The article lists several steps you can take.  For example, when you prepare the obituary, list the person’s age but don’t reveal things such as their mother’s maiden name or birth date.  Also omit the person’s address, for there have been times when a thief has robbed the deceased person’s home during the funeral.

Obtain several copies of the deceased person’s death certificate.  Send a copy to all three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, and ask them to place a “deceased alert” on their credit report.  Afterwards, periodically check the deceased person’s credit report to make sure there has not been any fraudulent activity.  You can get a free report from the credit bureaus by going to www.freecreditreport.com. Also mail copies of the death certificate to other institutions that the deceased person dealt with, such as banks, brokerage firms, etc.

You should report the death to the Social Security Administration by calling 800-772-1213.  Cancel the person’s driver’s license at your local department of motor vehicles.

For more tips and information regarding how to protect your loved one’s identity, go to www.idtheft.org and type “deceased” in the search box.  You can also get help through the SC Department of Consumer Affairs at www.consumer.sc.gov .

Although this may be challenging to handle while grieving over the loss of a loved one, it will be well worth the effort, and may help to avoid having to deal with “surprise” bills, damaged credit that may affect the surviving spouse, and other headaches.

About the Author
Valerie, the Foundation's Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer, is a certified public accountant and certified financial planner. She joined the Foundation in 2000 and has over 20 years' experience in the financial and estate planning fields. Valerie is responsible for investment oversight, estate planning, audit, tax, and account management.

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