A staggering 2.5 million Americans’ deal with identity theft each year, and they aren’t aware of it. Why? Because they’ve passed away.
Decedent identity theft is an enormous issue that comes at a time when families don’t have the emotional stamina or free time to deal with it. Planning a funeral and facing the emotional stresses is already hard enough. An identity theft issue is the last thing a family needs to have added to their plate of “to-dos”.
How does this happen?
The Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (DMF), home of the information of nearly 100 million deceased people, has become a breeding ground for identity theft over the past few years. As most families spend their time mourning their loss and planning the funeral, protecting their loved one’s identity is often an afterthought.
How do you prevent this from happening to your loved one?
Fortunately there are a few simple steps you can take to help reduce the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft.
Step 1: Notify Credit Bureaus
Notifying credit bureaus is one of the most important steps you can take to prevent identity theft after the loss of a loved one because it essentially flags their account and freezes their credit. Account predators would be stopped in their tracks if there was no way to open a new line of credit in the decedent’s name.
You can contact the three national credit bureaus TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian, and request that their credit report be flagged with a note that reads, “Deceased. Do Not Issue Credit.” At the same time you may also wish to request the credit report of the decedent in order to have a list of their accounts.
Equifax: P.O Box 105518, Atlanta, GA 30348-5518
Experian National Consumer Assistance Center: P.O. Box 9701, Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion: 1561 E. Orangethorpe Avenue, Fullerton, CA 92831
The State of California Department of Justice maps out this step along with additional, helpful info for surviving families living in California.
Step 2: Obituary TMI Trap
Many people feel pressure to provide a detailed obituary in order to honor a person’s life. While that’s important, some fall into the trap of oversharing information they provide in an obituary. By giving too much information, like birth date, death date, mother’s maiden name, address, and occupation, identity thieves have more data points to work with, and these aspects can be used not only to access old accounts, but also make new accounts, licenses, purchases, and more.
Step 3: Inform Financial Institutions
Banks, insurance companies, credit card companies, mortgage companies, stock brokers, and all other financial institutions should be informed right away of the death. In doing so, accounts can be managed appropriately to avoid problems later. Decide if you want to transfer, modify, or close these accounts, and continue to monitor them for suspicious activity.
If you need assistance with doing this, there are companies that can help tackle these tasks so that you can focus on other things.
Step 4: Secure Private Documents
Last but not least, round up any and all paperwork that could be used to jeopardize your loved one’s current, outstanding accounts. Get mail forwarding set up right away to make sure that any important documents like bank statements, credit card bills, and other private correspondence are in safe hands. Yours.
Thieves have been known to go as far as stealing mail out of mailboxes, and items like pre-approved credit card offers are sitting ducks.
In today’s technological age, identities of the deceased are easier targets than those of the living. Family members of the deceased often do not pay close attention to various and minute details may actually be opening them up to theft. Take the right steps to help keep your loved one from falling victim to identity theft crimes.