If Benjamin Franklin were alive today, he would surely add “identity theft” to the other two certainties he observed in life: death and taxes. While the internet does streamline our lives in its ability to warehouse all documents and link all aspects of our lives, our growing reliance on the cloud-based servers and remote databases also enables unscrupulous individuals to access and manipulate this online information. Such is the case when loved ones pass away. Mining personal information from hospitals, funeral homes or obituaries, identity thieves obtain personal information about the deceased, using fake or purchased social security numbers to obtain credit cards or file tax returns.
Named “ghosting,” this phenomenon refers to the creation of a fake persona using real information. One reason this practice is so successful is that government databases that house death records typically have a six month lag time between the date of death and the date of its documentation. Additionally, it is during this period that family members of the deceased are typically concerned with probate proceedings not monitoring their loved one’s credit reports. Nonetheless, keeping a loved one’s identity safe and intact is very important to ensure that there is an estate to disburse.
Here are steps that you should take in order to secure your loved one’s possessions from identity thieves:
1. When writing your loved one’s obituary, provide general information and omit information that could be used to open credit card accounts: date and location of birth, mother’s maiden name or personal address.
2. Send a request to credit bureaus to mark your loved one’s account as “deceased.” In order to make certain that the request has been received, use certified mail with a return receipt to notify all three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Run a credit report to ensure that no false accounts have been created.
3. Call the Social Security Administration to document your loved one’s death.
4. Notify all institutions that held your loved one’s resources. In addition to banks holding savings accounts and retirement funds, consider informing credit card and insurance companies.
5. Facilitate the notification process by ordering multiple copies of the original death certificates. Many institutions will not recognize a decedent’s status without an original document.
You took care of your loved one when she was alive. It’s important to protect her identity after her passing. Remaining vigilant during the grieving period could possibly help prevent extra grief in the future.