Preventing identity theft after death can save your family thousands of dollars from crooks seeking personal financial gain. Stealing the deceased identity is so easy, which is made even easier by public records.
A reform in federal law in the 1990s created a loophole that allows fraudsters to obtain the Social Security information of recently dead people.
Each year they use the identities of millions of deceased Americans to apply for loans fraudulently, open credit card accounts, get a cellphone, and other services. When identity theft happens, the survivors suffer both financial and emotional burdens.
The best way to end an identity thief is to prevent them from stealing from your deceased loved ones. If you take precautionary steps before identity thieves take action, they will leave you and prey on easier victims. That’s the best way to ensure your loved one’s estate is left to the family and any good causes it is intended.
FOR EASIER NAVIGATION:
- What Is Identity Theft?
- What Can Be Stolen By Identity Theft?
- Where Do They Get Information?
- Preventing Identity Theft After Death
- What To Do If Your Deceased Loved One Is The Victim Of Identity Theft?
- Additional Questions & Answers On Preventing Identity Theft After Death
WHAT IS IDENTITY THEFT?
Identity theft is also called identity fraud; it occurs when an unscrupulous person gains access to your personal information and misuses it for their gain. It may include making withdrawals on bank accounts, making purchases on credit cards, or using the social security number to obtain a loan.
Identity thieves can be strangers, or they may be people who were close to your deceased loved one, such as friends or family members, wanting to get personal financial gain.
When identity theft targets the deceased, it’s called ghosting. Ghosting occurs when someone steals information from different sources to open credit cards or loans in the dead person’s name.
Sadly, often relatives who are in financial trouble may even commit identity theft on a deceased family member.
It takes six months or more for Social Security Administration, financial institutions, and credit reporting bureaus to receive, register, or share death records and let other governmental agencies know of the deceased. The fraudsters have ample time to use the identity of their loved ones and gain from it.
The identity theft problem has become so severe that the government is now beginning to change the way how the Social Security number of the deceased is displayed.
WHAT CAN BE STOLEN BY IDENTITY THEFT?
Identity theft may try attempting to steal the following:
- Social security number – to get a hold of financial assets like bank accounts before the rightful beneficiary mentioned on the bequest have the chance to collect.
- Government benefits – they may receive disability benefits in the deceased name, or they may receive them falsely by claiming themselves to be the executor of the deceased’s estate.
- Tax returns – they can make fraudulent tax returns in the deceased’s name since internal audits are only done once every few years. It could be long enough for thieves to claim the proceeds and flee the country when caught.
- Driver’s license- they may try to steal the deceased driver’s license or a handicap parking permit and use it for themselves. Relatives are more likely to do this than strangers.
- Medical information – to attempt to get the drug payment card to their address and use it to save on expensive medications.
WHERE DO THEY GET INFORMATION?
Thieves get their information in different ways, such as:
- Obituaries – thieves can get obituaries’ birth dates, maiden names, birthplaces, and related family information.
- Death Master File – Social Security Administration maintains a database of the deceased. This file includes both the full name and the deceased’s Social Security number. Ninety days after death, you can access this information through the Death Master file on the internet. Enter the deceased name, and seconds later, the identity thief gets the matching Social Security Number.
- Internet – with a name, address, and birthday, thieves can purchase the person’s Social Security Number on the internet for as low as $10.
- Genealogy programs – some genealogy programs list the names, birthdays, death, mother’s maiden name, and Social Security numbers.
- Death certificates – you can obtain vital information necessary to steal someone’s identity from the death certificate. Information such as name, birthday, and social security number can be found on the death certificate.
- Other relevant documents – birth certificates, marriage certificates, and other financial records and statements contain vital personal identifying information.
PREVENTING IDENTITY THEFT AFTER DEATH
Here are the different ways how to protect the deceased from identity theft:
1. Be careful about what information you put in the obituary.
An obituary is the number one information resource for thieves. Birthday, death, mother’s maiden name, other relatives’ name, and home address are typically included.
You need to limit the information you provide about your loved one. Put the age but don’t include the birthday, mother’s maiden name, or other personal identifiers to avoid serving us a credit profile for an identity thief.
Omitting your deceased loved one’s address also reduces the chances of a home burglary during the funeral.
2. Contact the Social Security Administration
After getting at least 12 original copies of the death certificate, contact the Social Security Administration. Do this immediately because the majority of your loved one’s identity is connected to his Social Security Number.
Report the recent death of your loved one to the SSA by calling 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0078). You should notify them immediately, especially if the deceased were collecting any government benefit.
In most cases, the funeral director will report the death to SSA, but to ensure the death is reported promptly, a family member must make a report directly to an SSA representative between time 7:00 am and 7:00 pm Monday through Friday.
3. Pull your loved one’s credit report before reaching out to the credit bureaus
It is important to have a credit report to understand what financial accounts are still open. You can get this free at annualcreditreport.com. You’ll need to have the necessary information like the full name, address, birthday, and Social Security number.
You’ll need familiarity with the deceased to be able to pass the website’s multiple-choice security questions. You will be asked about prior addresses or which bank holds a current mortgage.
After a few weeks, recheck the credit report to see if there’s been any suspicious activity. After several months, get another credit report from a different credit-reporting bureau.
4. Report the death to the credit bureaus
One way of preventing identity theft after death is by calling each bureau before sending the official death certificate because each bureau has specific requirements to mark the credit holder as deceased. Find out each specific requirement, then write a letter notifying them of your loved one’s death.
The Credit Bureaus’ phone numbers are:
- Equifax 800-685-1111
- Experian 888-397-3742
- TransUnion 800-888-4213
You need to write the bureaus and not just call them because you will need to provide a copy of the death certificate.
Also, provide evidence that you are the executor and have the legal right to request this action. Send them the certified letters with a request for confirmation of receipt.
Include the following specific information in the mail:
- Copy of the death certificate
- Proof of executorship or marriage certificate
Then mail the following documents to the credit bureau addresses below:
P.O Box 105518
Atlanta, GA 30348-5518
Experian National Consumer Assistance Center
P.O. Box 9701
Allen, TX 75013
1561 E. Orangethorpe Avenue
Fullerton, CA 92831
The California Department of Justice provides us a sample letter to Credit Bureaus Notifying of Death:
Dear [name of credit bureau]:
I am writing to request that a formal death notice be placed on the credit file of:
Deceased’s full name (with middle initial if used):
Most recent address:
Social Security number:
Enclosed, please find one copy of the decedent’s death certificate. Also attached is a copy of a document attesting to my authority as decedent’s executor/surviving spouse.
If you have any questions, you may contact me by telephone at [phone number] or by email at [email address].
[Your name and address]
5. Request a death flag
Preventing identity theft after death, notify the credit bureaus and ask them to flag your loved one’s account as “Deceased.” This puts a permanent credit freeze on the account so that no one can issue credit.
The death flag will alert a bank or credit company that the name being used to apply for a bank account or credit card belongs to a dead person.
You could use the death flag to enable credit bureaus to notify you if someone tried to use the identity of your loved one to open a new bank account or credit card. The death flag is permanent and will not be removed from the credit files.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act gives the estate representative or the spouse the legal authority to request a death flag to be placed on the deceased credit records for free.
6. Contact all financial institutions the decedent had accounts with
Contact every financial institution, such as:
- Credit card companies
- Insurance companies
- Other financial institution
That the decedent has accounts with and alerts them as soon as possible so no one can make unauthorized transfers of withdrawals.
7. Contact every creditor listed in the credit report
Call and notify them of your loved one’s death. The creditors will then close the accounts and start necessary steps if the estate owes them money.
Mail death certificates to banks, insurance companies, brokerage, mortgage companies, and credit card companies where your deceased loved one held accounts. Make sure the institution list “Closed: Account Holder is Deceased” as the reason for closing the individual account. For joint accounts, remove the decedent’s name on the account.
To make the process quicker as you close the accounts, make sure you have enough copies of the death certificate the first time around.
Sample Letter to Creditor or Collection Agency on 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 name of your deceased loved one to the Direct Marketing Association
Ask them to put the deceased name on to do not call list. This is a free service to keep unsolicited offers for a new credit card or bank account from appearing in your mailbox, which is a favorite place for thieves to visit.
9. Cancel the decedent’s identity documents
Preventing identity theft after death, ask for the cancellation of your deceased loved one’s identity documents, such as the driver’s license and passport. Contact the Department of Motor Vehicle to cancel the decedent’s driver’s license. It will prevent duplicates from being issued to thieves.
Notify the U.S. State Department that your loved one has died to cancel his passport so no one can use his identity to travel.
10. Shut down the email and social media accounts
Social media accounts such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram often display information about the deceased that can help identity thieves. These thieves are always trying to get as much personal information about the decedent in any medium they can. That’s why it’s crucial for family members or the state executor to remember to delete or memorialize the deceased social media accounts.
11. Don’t share personal information
To prevent identity theft after death, be cautious about who you share information with, even with the family. Don’t leave credit cards, passbooks, or brokerage statements lying around. Do not volunteer information to anybody. Refrain from telling anyone how much money or valuables the deceased has. That information needs to be kept within the family. Family members should be careful in trusting people who help them to manage the estate.
Birth certificates, marriage certificates, and other financial documents containing important, personally-identifying information should be kept in a safe place. Avoid sharing these documents with personal identifying information with third-party institutions or individuals unless disclosure is required for any legal purpose.
Family members should be vigilant in completing the different steps in preventing identity theft after death. It is less likely our deceased family member will fall victim to identity theft if we follow these steps.
WHAT TO DO IF YOUR DECEASED LOVED ONE IS THE VICTIM OF IDENTITY THEFT?
Here are the things we should do if our deceased loved one falls victim to identity theft:
- Contact the financial institution – Notify the institution immediately, whether it’s a credit card company, stockbroker, or cellphone provider. Tell them that somebody is using their late customer’s identity for personal gain.
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission – The TFC operates a website, IdentityTheft.gov, where you can report any incident of identity theft on yourself or a deceased family member. Collaborate with them in the investigation. You must inform them that you do not have to pay for debts incurred by criminals who steal the identity of your loved one.
- Contact the police – file a police report. Identity theft is a crime that occurs in almost all jurisdictions of the police. You should notify them irrespective of whether assets have been stolen or not.
ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS & ANSWERS ON PREVENTING IDENTITY THEFT AFTER DEATH
What does identity theft mean?
Identity theft is a crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data to involve fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.
What are some ways identity thieves can use a deceased person’s information?
There are many ways identity thieves can use a deceased person’s information, including:
- Applying for credit cards or loans in the deceased person’s name
- Opening new bank accounts in the deceased person’s name
- Making purchases using the deceased person’s credit cards
- Filing for tax refunds in the deceased person’s name
- Accessing the deceased person’s bank account, retirement accounts, or other financial assets
What steps can you take to help prevent identity theft after someone has passed away?
Ensuring that all of the deceased person’s important documents, including their will, bank statements, and credit card statements, are safely stored securely can help prevent identity theft after death. Additionally, it is important to keep a close eye on any accounts or financial assets belonging to the deceased person and report any suspicious activity immediately. You may also want to consider placing a credit freeze or fraud alert on the deceased person’s credit file to prevent anyone from accessing their information without your permission.
What are the first signs of identity theft?
Some common signs of identity theft include unexpected bills or charges on your credit card statement, unfamiliar accounts being opened in your name, or unusual activity on your bank account or other financial accounts. If you notice any of these warning signs, it is important to take immediate action to mitigate the effects of identity theft and minimize any potential damage to your finances.
What is the most common identity theft?
There is no one ‘most common’ identity theft, as many different types of identity theft can affect people in different ways. Some of the most common forms of identity theft include credit card fraud, tax refund fraud, medical identity theft, and online account or password hacking. However, every case of identity theft is unique, and it is important to be vigilant and take appropriate steps to protect yourself from potential threats.
What are the 6 types of identity theft?
There are many different types of identity theft, but some of the most common include:
- Credit card fraud is when someone uses your stolen credit card information to make unauthorized charges.
- Tax refund fraud is when someone files a false tax return in your name to collect a tax refund, often using personal data they have stolen.
- Medical identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information to obtain medical care or services, which can lead to false or inaccurate information being entered into your medical records.
- Online account or password hacking: With so much of our personal data stored online, it is important to take steps to secure our accounts and passwords from potential hackers.
- Social media impersonation occurs when someone uses your personal information on social media to create fake accounts or assume your identity online.
- Employment or tax-related identity theft happens when someone uses your personal information to obtain employment, file taxes, or take other actions that can result in financial harm.
How can I tell if someone is using my identity?
Some of the key signs that someone may be using your identity can include unusual or unexplained changes to your credit score, bank account balances, or credit card statements. You may also receive calls or letters from unfamiliar businesses or creditors, or debt collectors may contact you for debts that you do not owe. If you notice any of these warning signs, it is important to take immediate action to protect your finances and your identity.
What steps should you take if you are a victim of identity theft?
If you suspect that you have been the victim of identity theft, there are several steps that you should take to protect yourself. These include notifying your financial institutions immediately and putting a freeze or fraud alert on your credit files, filing a police report, contacting the major credit bureaus to have fraudulent accounts removed from your credit report, and taking steps to secure your online accounts and personal information.
What are the most common things stolen during identity theft?
There is no one ‘most common’ thing stolen during identity theft, as many different types of identity theft can affect people in different ways. However, some of the most common items that are stolen include credit card information, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, birthdates, and addresses.
How can I find out if someone opened a bank account in my name?
One of the best ways to find out if someone has opened a bank account in your name is to review your credit report. This will typically show any new accounts that have been opened in your name and any recent inquiries from potential creditors. You can also contact your bank directly and ask about any suspicious transactions or accounts that you may not be aware of.
How can you tell if someone has opened a credit card in your name?
There are several ways to tell if someone has opened a credit card in your name. One of the most obvious signs is if you receive bills or other correspondence from an unfamiliar credit card company. You may also notice unusual charges on your credit card statements or sudden changes in your credit score. Other potential signs can include having your credit card denied or seeing errors on your credit report.
How do you check if your SSN is being used?
One way to check if your Social Security number (SSN) is being used by someone else is to review your credit report. This will typically show any new accounts that have been opened in your name and any recent inquiries from potential creditors. You can also contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) to see if there have been any changes or unusual activity associated with your SSN.
How can I tell if someone filed a tax return in my name?
It can be difficult to tell if someone has filed a tax return in your name, as this can often occur without you knowing. The best way to protect yourself is to file your taxes as early as possible and to keep a close eye on your tax returns to ensure that no suspicious activity has occurred. You should also contact the IRS to report any fraud, or fraudulent activity that you suspect may be taking place.
What are 2 things you should do if your identity is stolen?
If your identity is stolen, there are several steps that you should take to protect yourself. These include notifying your financial institutions immediately and putting a freeze or fraud alert on your credit files, filing a police report, contacting the major credit bureaus to have fraudulent accounts removed from your credit report, and taking steps to secure your online accounts and personal information.
How do I recover my stolen identity?
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to recovering your stolen identity, as the process can vary depending on the type of identity theft that has occurred. However, some steps that you may need to take include notifying your financial institutions, filing a police report, and contacting the major credit bureaus. You may also need to take steps to secure your online accounts and personal information.
Who is a likely victim of identity theft?
Although some groups may be more at risk than others, identity theft can affect anyone. For example, people who frequently use online services or make purchases using their credit cards may be more vulnerable to identity theft. Additionally, seniors and those who have weak or limited access to financial resources may also be at increased risk of identity theft. In general, anyone who shares their personal information or has their financial accounts hacked is at risk for identity theft.
What happens when your identity is stolen?
When your identity is stolen, there may be a number of negative consequences that you need to deal with. This may include having fraudulent charges on your credit card or being unable to access your financial accounts. You may also experience difficulties applying for loans, mortgages, or new credit cards.
How can I check my identity theft for free?
There are several ways to check your identity theft for free. One way is to review your credit report from the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) to look for any suspicious activity. Additionally, you can also contact the Social Security Administration or the IRS to check for changes or unusual activity connected to your SSN. You can also consider contacting a professional identity theft monitoring service, although many of these services do charge a fee.
What are the ways someone can steal your identity?
There are several different ways that someone can steal your identity. One common method is through online or digital data breaches, where hackers target sensitive personal information. Another way is through phishing scams or other forms of online fraud, such as fake email messages or websites that ask for your personal information. Identity theft can also occur through the theft or misuse of physical documents, such as your Social Security card or bank statements, or by gaining unauthorized access to your financial accounts.
What can a scammer do with my name and address?
A scammer who has access to your name and address can potentially use this information to commit a range of different crimes. For example, they may use your name and address to apply for credit cards or loans, open utility accounts in your name, or obtain other sensitive personal information that they can use.
Can someone steal your identity with just your name?
It is possible for someone to steal your identity with just your name. This is because your name can be used to access a variety of different personal information and accounts, including your address, date of birth, driving license number, bank account details, and more. Therefore, it is important to be vigilant about protecting your personal information and to report any suspected identity theft as quickly as possible.
What can I do with someone’s identity?
There are a number of different things that you can do with someone’s identity. For example, you can use their personal information to apply for credit cards or loans, open utility accounts in their name, access sensitive personal and financial data, or perpetrate other forms of fraud.
What information does a scammer need?
A scammer may need a variety of different pieces of personal information in order to commit identity theft or other forms of fraud. This may include your name and address, date of birth, driver’s license number, bank account details, credit card numbers, PIN codes, etc. Therefore, it is important to be careful about sharing your personal information and regularly monitor your accounts for any suspicious activity.
How can someone use my credit card without having it?
There are a number of different ways that someone can use your credit card without having a physical card. For example, they may have access to your credit card number and security code, or they may be able to use your credit card information to make online purchases. Some scammers may also engage in “skimming” devices that can capture your credit card information without your knowledge.
Can someone open a bank account with my Social Security Number?
It is possible for someone to open a bank account using your Social Security Number (SSN). This may allow them to gain access to your personal information and financial resources. Additionally, it may also impact your credit score or result in other financial consequences. Therefore, if you suspect that someone has stolen your SSN, it is important to take action immediately. You can report the incident to the Social Security Administration (SSA) and/or the relevant financial institutions to prevent any further damage.
How do you put an alert on your Social Security number?
You can place an alert on your Social Security Number (SSN) by contacting the credit reporting agencies and requesting an alert be placed on your file. This will notify creditors that they should take extra steps to verify your identity before extending credit. You can also contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) to report a lost or stolen SSN, which will help to prevent identity theft.
What can someone do with the last 4 digits of your SSN?
If someone has access to the last 4 digits of your Social Security Number (SSN), they may be able to use this information to obtain other personal data and commit identity theft or fraud. This may include accessing your credit report, applying for loans or credit cards, opening utility accounts in your name, or accessing sensitive personal data. Therefore, it is important to keep your SSN safe and secure and to report any suspicious activity to the relevant authorities.
How long does it take to correct identity theft?
The length of time required to correct identity theft will depend on the severity and extent of the damage caused. Some cases may be relatively simple and can be resolved in a matter of days or weeks, while more complicated cases may take months or even years to resolve fully. In any case, it is important to report suspected identity theft as quickly as possible and work with the relevant authorities to restore your credit and financial standing.
Can your identity be stolen with just your ID?
While it is possible to steal someone’s identity using just their ID, such as a driver’s license or passport, it is more difficult to do so. This is because these forms of ID typically only include basic information such as name, address, and date of birth, which may not be sufficient for committing identity theft. Therefore, it is generally recommended that you keep your Social Security Number (SSN) and credit card information private and secure to prevent identity theft further.
Can someone use my credit card with just the number and CVV?
Yes, if someone has your credit card number and the CVV (card verification value), they can use your credit card for online purchases or over the phone. Additionally, they may be able to use your credit card information to withdraw cash from an ATM or make other types of transactions. Therefore, it is important to keep your credit card information safe and secure to prevent unauthorized use.