The National Crime Victimization Survey found that 16.6 million people were victims of identity theft in 2012. However, identity theft doesn’t just happen to the living; unfortunately, nearly 2.5 million of those victims were deceased. Why? The deceased are highly targeted by criminals, as the death of a loved one is a life-altering event and the surviving family members probably aren’t immediately concerned with the risk of identity theft, making personal documents and sensitive information vulnerable to theft.
How Do Criminals Find the Info?
When someone dies, there are plenty of ways for criminals to access his or her personal information including obituaries, hospitals and even funeral homes. If the criminal is a pro, he or she likely uses public records at their disposal. They can find out the age and birth date of the deceased, towns they’ve lived in, family members’ names and info just from the obituary alone.
Effects of Posthumous Identity Theft
Once a criminal has their hands on private information, most commonly they head to the bank to borrow money against their victim’s name, whether through a loan or credit cards. Relatives can go years without the slightest clue of any debt.
Another type of identity theft perpetrated on the deceased is tax fraud, or filing fraudulent tax returns with a deceased person’s information to collect refunds. The IRS reports that false tax returns on the deceased are part of tax fraud that costs billions of dollars each year.
Precautions to Take
When a loved one dies, the family should immediately start a log of finances and accounts, documents, and belongings, and notify everyone of the person’s death.
Experts advise gathering all physical documents of the deceased and keeping them under lock and key, with access limited to one or only a few known people. Using an ID theft protection service to organize and secure the deceased victim’s information and financial information can help with this process. Identity theft expert Robert Siciliano recommends using services like this to monitor financial and credit accounts for up to a year after death to prevent fraud.
Siciliano also recommends putting a credit freeze on credit by notifying the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, to flag accounts with a “deceased” status. Jack Vonder, president of Technology Briefing Centers, advises people to cancel the deceased’s driver’s license with the state’s department of motor vehicles.
Siciliano says it’s important to record the death immediately in the national death index and report it to the Social Security Administration, as well as all financial institutions including banks, insurance companies, credit accounts, and stock brokers.
Personal finance and credit expert Bill Hazelton advises people to get at least a dozen original death certificates to use in this process of reporting a loved one’s death. He says to be very careful about obituaries, avoiding publishing anything with personal identifying information, especially birth date or exact death date, mother’s maiden name, home address, relatives’ names, or deceased’s age or middle name.