It is essential to know about preventing identity theft after a person’s death as it can save their family thousands of dollars. Some crooks try to profit by exploiting such information for financial gain. In reality, it is easy to commit identity theft of a deceased person.
With the prevalence of social media, it is more comfortable, as anyone can siphon information from numerous sources. Digital presence increases the risk of identity theft as it increases the accessibility of information. But this is no reason to live in constant fear and worry. One has no reason to be afraid of identity theft if they take all the necessary precautions.
A dated reform in the federal law back in the 1990s helped fraudsters to exploit a loophole. It enabled easy access to the social security information of the recently deceased.
Each year millions of deceased American identities are misused to apply for loans, get a cellphone, open new credit card accounts, and other such services. Identity theft incurs both a financial and emotional cost on the survivors.
The best way to stop identity theft is to prevent it in the first place. Preventive action is more effective than remedial ones. If loved ones take steps before the fraudsters jump into action, they might leave their prey alone. This way is the most effective to stop them and ensure that their loved ones’ belongings and assets are safe. This way, their estates would only go to the family as the deceased intended or to any goodwill cause they want.
What is Identity Theft?
It is otherwise called identity fraud. It refers to unscrupulous individuals gaining access to another person’s confidential personal information. They misuse it to make gains. From making withdrawals in the deceased person’s name to making purchases using their credit cards and obtaining loans with their social security number, frauds use identity for several purposes.
Identity thieves need not necessarily be strangers; it could even be people who are closed to the deceased. It could even be friends, family, or other acquaintances of your loved ones wanting to take advantage of their identity.
The act of targeting the deceased is called Ghosting. It occurs when a person steals information from various sources to make money out of it. Unfortunately, there are relatives under severe financial trouble who commit identity theft after a family member’s death.
It takes around six to seven months for the following organizations to register and share the death records;
- Social Security administration
- Financial Institutions and
- Credit Reporting Bureau
Only after they acknowledge can they let other government agencies know. But by then, it gives ample time to fraudsters to use their identity and make use of it.
The problem of identity theft has become so severe that today the government is starting to change how the Social Security number is accessed or displayed.
What are the risks of Identity Theft?
An Identity thief may try to steal the following for various reasons:
- Social Security Number:- It is necessary to have access to bank accounts and other assets. They could steal it before the actual beneficiary mentioned in the bequest has a chance to collect it.
- Government Benefits: They may receive benefits like disability funding and other such services by claiming the deceased person’s name and assuming the executor of a dead person’s estate.
- Tax Returns: They could make fraudulent tax returns in the name of a person. The government conducts internal audits only once a couple of years. It gives the thieves an extended window to flee with the profits.
- Driver’s License: The license of a deceased person is more likely to be stolen by their relatives. Relatives keep a handicapped parking permit or a driving license for personal use.
- Medical Information: This could give them a doorway to have the drug payment card in their address. It can save money on expensive medication.
Where Do Thieves Get The Information?
Fraudsters get personal information from a variety of sources, including but not limited to:
- Obituaries: Thieves typically get maiden names, birthdates, and birthplaces, and information of the family from obituaries.
- Death Master file: The SSA maintains a dedicated database of people who have passed away. The file will include both the full names and Social Security number of the deceased. After ninety days after a person’s death, you can access this information via the Death Master on the internet. You only have to enter the name of the deceased, and within seconds, the thief can get access to the corresponding Social Security number.
- Internet– Armed with just the name, birthday, and address, anyone can purchase someone’s Social Security number on the internet for a mere $10 or less.
- Genealogy programs: Some genealogy programs list names, Dates of birth and death, maiden names, and personal social security numbers.
- Death Certificates: A person can obtain all the necessary information to steal another’s identity just from the death certificate. Personal details are present on death certificates.
- Other Relevant documents: Marriage certificates, birth certificates, and additional financial information, records, statements, and similar documents contain vital personal information.
Ways to Prevent Identity Theft After Death:
1. Be cautious when you share information in the obituary.
It is one of the essential sources for fraudsters. Birthday, Date of death, maiden name of parents, other relatives’ names, and address are typically present.
You need to minimize the amount of information on your loved one. Mention the age but do not include other details that could potentially serve as a credit profile for thieves. Avoiding mention of the address also reduces the chances of a burglary at home during a funeral.
2. Contact Social Security Administration:
You should report to the Social security Administration after obtaining 12 or more original copies of your loved one’s death certificate. Do this as soon as possible because this is the primary link to a person’s identity.
You can report to them by calling 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0078). You should notify the SSA immediately, more so in the case of the deceased collecting government benefits.
Generally, the funeral director will promptly report a death to the SSA. But to ensure that they do it without fail, it is better if a family member directly says it to the SSA. You should do it between the time 7:00 AM and 7:00 PM. They will be open Monday to Friday.
3. File for a credit report of your loved one before reporting to the credit bureaus.
Getting a credit report is necessary to get a clear picture of which existing financial accounts are still open. You can even access this information for free at annualcreditreport.com. You will need essential details like the full name, birthday, address, and social security number.
Passing the website’s multiple choice question requires familiarity with the deceased person. Current and prior addresses and banks that hold mortgages, if any, are the queries.
Recheck the reports after a couple of weeks to see if there has been any suspicious activity. Alternatively, one could also get a credit report from a different credit-reporting bureau.
4. Report the Death to the Credit Bureaus
A significant way in which one can prevent identity theft after death is by specifically calling each bureau. Many do not know about reporting the death to credit agencies. This step takes precedence over sending the official death certificate. Each bureau has individual specific requirements to certify a credit holder is deceased. Find out what these requirements are. Next, write a letter to notify them of your loved one’s death, considering all the required details.
How To Report A Death To The Credit Bureaus?
One of the first things to do after a person dies is to contact and notify credit agencies of death.
You may be wondering how to notify the credit bureau of death. One can do it by following a simple step such as giving them a call reporting the death. The phone numbers to reach the credit bureau are:
- Experian 888-397-3742
- Equifax 800-685-1111
- TransUnion 800-888-4213
Calling them is not enough as you will have to provide proof or a copy of the death certificate. You will also need to provide evidence that you are the legal executor of the will and legally eligible to request this action. You have to send them a certified letter along with a request asking for confirmation of receipt.
You have to add the following information in the mail that you send:
- Copy of death certificate
- Evidence of executorship of will or marriage certificate.
Once this is over, send it to the following addresses.
PO Box 105518
Atlanta, GA 30348.5518
2. Experian National Consumer Assistance Center
P.O. Box 9701
Allen, TX 75013
1561 E. Orangethorpe Avenue
Fullerton, CA 92831
The Department of Justice of California offers a sample letter to be sent to the Credit Bureaus notifying a death.
Dear [name of credit bureau]:
I am writing to ask/request that an official death notice be placed on the credit file of:
Decedent’s full name (with middle initial if there is any):
Most recent address:
Social Security number:
Please find one enclosed copy of the decedent’s death certificate. Also enclosed is a copy of a document attesting to my immediate authority as the decedent’s executor/surviving spouse.
If you have any questions, you may contact me by phone at [phone number] or by email at [email address].
[Your name and address]
5.Make a request for a death flag:
To prevent identity theft, it is advisable that one notifies the credit bureau and asks them to flag the person as “deceased.” This act puts an effective permanent freeze on the account, and no one will issue credit.
The death flag alerts banks and credit companies if someone uses the name to apply for bank accounts or a credit card is that of a dead person.
You could alternatively use the death flag to empower credit bureaus to notify you when you find someone using a deceased person’s identity to open a bank account or get a new credit card. A death flag is a permanent action, and it will appear in the credit files.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act provides the estate representative and or the spouse legal authority to request a death flag. You can do it free of cost.
6. Contact all financial institutions the deceased was associated with:
- Credit card company
- Insurance companies
- Other financial institutions.
Such institutions that the deceased had accounts in have to be informed as soon as possible. This action prevents unauthorized withdrawals or transfers.
7. Contact all creditors listed in the credit report:
You should notify them by call or otherwise of your loved one’s death. The creditors will further take actions such as closing the accounts and starting other processes if the estate owes them money.
It would be best to mail death certificates to financial institutions like banks, credit card companies, insurance agencies, mortgage companies, etc. Ensure that the institution lists “Closed: Account Holder is Deceased” under the reason for closing down that account. In the case of joint accounts, remove the deceased person’s name from the store.
To make all these processes quicker, when you close the accounts, make sure you have multiple copies of the death certificate right away.
Sample letter to be sent to creditors or collection agencies regarding the account opened in the deceased’s name.
Dear [name of company]:
I am writing to notify you of an account that, I understand, was opened/accessed fraudulently in the name of [deceased’s name], who died on
As the [executor/surviving spouse], I request that you close that account without attempting further collection from me and that you place a formal death notice on the account.
Deceased’s full name (with middle initial if used):
Most recent address:
Enclosed, please find a copy of the decedent’s death certificate. Also enclosed is a document attesting to my authority as the decedent’s
If you have any questions, you may contact me by telephone, at [phone number], or by email at [email address].
[Your name and address]
8. Add the Deceased person’s name to the Direct Marketing Association:
Tell them to put the name under the do-not-call list. This service is free of cost to prevent unsolicited offers for a new credit card or bank account from appearing in the mailbox. It makes it a favorite place for thieves to snoop or visit.
9. Cancel the deceased’s identity documents:
This step is a vital one to prevent identity thievery. Request the cancellation of the decedent’s identity documents, including passport and driver’s license. Call the Department of Motor Vehicles to cancel the driver’s license. It will also prevent issuing of duplicates that thieves can use.
Inform the U.S State department of the passage of your loved one. This report will cancel their passport so no one else will be able to use a decedent’s identity to travel.
10. Shutdown the social media accounts and email accounts
Social media is very informative. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other such accounts display a wealth of information about the decedent. This information could serve as a potential source for identity thieves. As they are trying to make do with as much possible information they can get through any medium they can. That is why it is crucial for family members, executors, or spouses to delete social media accounts and handles.
11. Do not share personal information
Be cautious and aware of what information you share and where. One has to be careful even with family members. Do not leave documents such as credit cards, financial statements, passbooks, and such information lying around. Secure them in a safe spot.
Do not volunteer to give information to anybody. Avoid telling anyone how much the decedent is worth or how much valuables he/she has. Such sensitive information should not go beyond the immediate family. Members of a family should exercise caution while trusting people who help in managing the assets and estate.
Important documents such as birth certificates or marriage certificates and financial reports and documents that contain personal identifying information should be secure. Avoid sharing them with individuals or third-party institutions unless disclosure is mandatory for legal purposes.
Family members have the onus to be vigilant in executing all these preventive steps after death. In doing so, it will be less likely that anyone will steal the identity.
What to do if someone steals the Identity of your loved one ?
If you do not know who to contact if someone is using a deceased family member/decedent’s identity, here are the steps you need to take:
- Contact the Financial Institutions: This is one of the first and most significant steps you should take as stealing money is the primary motive of fraudsters. Be it a credit card company, cell phone provider, or a stockbroker, inform them about the death. Notify them about someone else taking advantage of your loved one’s late identity for personal gains.
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission (TFC): The FTC website- IdentityTheft.gov, allows reporting of incidents related to identity theft of yourself or a decedent. Collaborate and cooperate with them during the investigation. You must inform them of your position to not pay for the debts incurred by the criminals who steal identities.
- Contact the Police: Filing a police report is an essential step towards capturing or stopping the fraudsters. Identity theft is an illegal act or a crime in all police jurisdictions. You should report to them no matter what assets have gone so far. Even in the absence of financial theft, you should still file a complaint.
The death of a person is an immensely emotional loss. Even though one is no place to take action to protect their loved one’s savings, they should still exercise all manner of precautions. Ensuring the safety of the decedent’s identity will offer a stress-free future where one does not have to worry about identity thieves stealing money or using them to make personal gains.