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Death is Not the End...of Identity Theft

Posted on December 1, 2020

ID Theft Protection After Death

Identity theft against the deceased is a real danger, and often the last thing on a grieving person’s mind…which is exactly what identity thieves hope for when deliberately targeting a deceased person’s identity. Between the heartache and sorting through the details of a loved one’s passing, family members aren’t likely to be on the lookout for identity fraud.

Deceased identity theft (also called “ghosting”—not to be confused with the millennial term for ending a relationship suddenly) is lucrative enough that nearly 2.5 million deceased Americans fall victim to this crime each year. Ghosters use the stolen identities to fraudulently obtain credit cards, loans, cell phones, driver’s licenses or to collect tax returns and government benefits.

While credential stuffing, synthetic ID theft, and mining personal data from a breach can also result in the theft of our loved ones’ identities, ghosters actually specialize in gathering information on the recently deceased. Often beginning with information from an obituary, they will start searching for the corresponding Social Security number or buy a “fullz” (full identity package) on the dark web, or gather other information from the internet or public records. Armed with this surplus of personal information, they aim to use it to make money on the identity before the family notices that something is wrong.

Here are steps you can take to prevent this crime from happening to you and your loved ones:

  • First, and, if possible, before you post an obituary:
    • Report the death to the Social Security administration so thieves can’t steal the deceased person’s government benefits.
    • Send copies of the death certificate to each of the three major credit bureaus by certified mail and ask them to place a “deceased alert” on the person’s credit report. (The Social Security Administration will also notify them, but that can take up to six months.)
    • Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles in their state of residence and have their driver’s license cancelled.
  • When you do post an obituary, don’t give details such as their date of birth, mother’s maiden name, or address. (It is OK to give their age.)
  • Mail copies of the death certificate to financial institutions, medical benefit providers, and insurers. Ask them for a letter confirming that the account is closed and is flagged with “Account Holder Is Deceased.”.
  • Remove the deceased’s name from any joint accounts. You don’t want a surviving parent, for example, left without resources because a thief emptied their bank account.
  • Keep an eye on incoming mail and make sure expected checks and bills are showing up. Thieves have been known to file “change of address” forms with the US Postal Service to divert mail. The Post Office has procedures to help prevent this kind of fraud, but it can still happen.
  • Check their credit report (at for suspicious activity, a few weeks after the death and continuing at least until the estate is settled and all accounts have been closed or transferred.
  • As you go through their effects, be sure to dispose of papers securely and erase personal information on electronic devices before donating them or giving them away.
  • Keep ID cards and passports secure. (The US Passport Service can cancel a passport if needed.)

The living can also help prevent identity ghosting. We all have to plan for the inevitable, so be sure to leave your survivors a complete list of information on accounts, government benefits, etc. (kept in a secure place, of course). That way they can act quickly to protect the assets of your estate and any surviving partner. And be sure to include info about any identity protection plan that you may have. This gives them access to monthly reports and any alerts and lets them renew, if they choose, to protect your identity until your estate is closed. And if you’re an executor or surviving partner, you can actually buy an identity protection plan such as ID Experts’ complete identity protection solution, MyIDCare, for your deceased loved one, which would provide peace of mind and expert help if their identity were to be stolen.

It’s a shame that mourning families have to deal with the threat of identity theft. But it’s less stressful to protect your loved one’s identity from ghosting than to let it fall into the hands of thieves.

Author(s): IDX

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