Identity theft is a growing problem in this country. Each year, roughly 15 million people have their identities used fraudulently at a cost of more than $50 billion. If you think this is bad, about 2.5 million of these individuals had their identities stolen after they died. For some families, it can take years to realize that the theft has occurred, and sometimes even longer to bring the criminals to justice.
Commonly called ghosting, criminals will use the deceased person’s identity to commit acts of fraud such as applying for credit cards, tax refunds, loans and, in some cases, jobs. These crimes can cause unneeded stress and heartache for surviving family members, many of whom are still mourning the loss of their loved one.
How Ghosting Occurs
Unfortunately, many thieves get their information from the one keepsake families cherish when their loved one dies: An obituary. Identity thieves scour these death notices to get all the important information needed to commit identity theft crimes including:
- Full birth and married name
- Dates of birth and death
- Mother’s maiden name
- Close relatives
- Former place of employment
Criminals take this information and can easily purchase that person’s Social Security number from the Social Security Office’s Death Master File. Once they have this vital piece of information, they can begin their criminal fraud spree. Thieves can also potentially steal your identity by perusing your social networks and hacking into your online banking and credit card sites and email accounts. To truly protect your loved ones from being victims of after-death identity theft, there are steps you can take both in-person and online right after the death occurs:
1. Limit Information Published in an Obituary
While it may seem traditional to publish a full obituary after a person dies, you may want to consider only posting a short version with less personal information. For instance, you may want to omit mother’s maiden name since this is a common identifying factor for people. You can also request to have only a few lines of the obituary to run online, while longer and more in-depth could be requested and only published in newspaper.
You can also publish a longer obituary on a private website or as part of the funeral program distributed at the funeral. Since many funerals are anything but traditional these days, this would be just another way to safely announce your loved one’s death.
2. Request Certified Copies of Death Certificate
Death certificates are typically available within a week or so of a person’s death, depending your locality. However, it would behoove you to request copies through the funeral home so you will not only have proof of your loved one’s passing, but you will need to send certified copies to:
- Credit bureaus
- Banks and other financial institutions
- Insurance agencies
- Investment firms
- Utility companies
When you do close these accounts, make sure you request that account is flagged as the account holder being deceased. This will stop criminals from trying to reopen the accounts under your deceased loved one’s name because the death certificate will already be on file. Also, when you report the death to the credit bureau, make sure you get a copy of the report so you can check for any fraudulent activity.
3. Report Death to Governing Agencies
It’s imperative to contact several local, state and federal agencies about a loved one’s death:
- Social Security Administration: If your loved one received SSA payments, you will need to let them know so future payments could be stopped. Since criminals could get your loved one’s Social Security number from the Death Master File, this is a good way to prevent that happening.
- Department of Motor Vehicles: Cancel your loved one’s driver’s license to ensure that a duplicate and possibly fraudulent one could not be issued.
- Veteran’s Administration: If your loved one was a U.S. military veteran or a spouse of a veteran, he or she may be eligible for burial benefits. The sooner you contact the VA, the quicker you can receive your benefits. You are also preventing any potential thieves from fraudulently receiving any of these benefits.
4. Deactivate All Social Media and Online Accounts
Just as society’s dependency on the Internet keeps growing, so does the amount of online accounts a person has. If you have access to your loved one’s accounts, then deactivate them immediately and remove all personal information. However, if you don’t know their log-ins, here are some ways to protect their identity.
- Facebook: When Facebook is made aware of a loved one’s death,the social media site will automatically make the page a memorialization. With proof of his or her the family can ask for the page to be deactivated or removed.
- Twitter: You can deactivate a loved one’s account with proof of death as well as his or her government identification (state ID card, drivers license, etc.)
- LinkedIn: A simple form with questions about the deceased person needs to be filled out and sent in for review.
- Email: Most of the major email providers such as Gmail and Yahoo! simply require proof of death to shut down an email account. However, with Yahoo!, next of kin can request the account be deactivated, but will not be allowed to actually go into the email account.
- Online banking and credit cards: Contact each individual company to find out their rules regarding closing online accounts when someone dies.
The number one way to prevent thieves from stealing your identity is to limit the personal information you have available online. Thieves can’t steal something that isn’t there in the first place. For more information, contact Grace where funeral experts can help you understand how to protect yourself and your love one’s identity after you die.