How to Protect the Deceased from Identity Theft

With our lives so documented in a digital world today, the deceased are even easier victims of identity theft than ever. It can be extremely distressing to discover that your loved one’s identity has been stolen following their death. Not only can it be very emotionally tormenting, the financial implications to the good-standing of the deceased (& deceased’s surviving family) can be catastrophic. It can be so frustrating for family to witness the good name and credit of a loved one destroyed with little regard.

Why target the deceased

The dead have always been vulnerable to identity theft, but this has become more of an issue as we have moved into a digital age, with so much of our personal data stored on electronic devices and floating around in the ‘ether’ of the Internet. Many years ago fraud criminals would have to study death notices and obituary listings in newspapers or hang around cemeteries. Today much of our personal data is entered into electronic databases, and despite the changes in data protection and privacy laws, we are still vulnerable to having our identity cloned or stolen. Some people choose to disclose far more personal data then they should on public sites. A recent survey from ID Analytics revealed that the details of 2.5 million Americans are used every year to illegally apply for credit on goods and services.

The funeral industry has tried to embrace the digital culture by offering us online obituaries and memorials, even going so far today as posting these on Facebook and Twitter. This just makes it all the easier for the criminal element to identify targets. Once a deceased target has been identified, thieves will dig deeper to get details from the death certificate and Social Security Death Index File. Remember that these are public records and certified copies can be requested online now.

Statistics on identity theft also show that family members do steal and assume an identity–made all the easier as they already have access to personal data.

The tough economic times we are in has also contributed to an increase in crimes of fraud.

What steps can you take to protect your loved one’s identity?

There are a number steps you can take to help prevent identity theft following a death. The surviving family, or the executor of the deceased’s estate, will generally be responsible for this.

  • Make sure you obtain additional certified copies of the death certificate, this way you can begin notifying multiple organizations/authorities at once.
  • Notify the three national credit reporting agencies & request that a “Deceased Alert” be placed on the deceased’s report.
  • Request a copy of the deceased’s credit report in order that you can determine exactly what credit accounts remain open at the time of death. The credit report will also list the addresses of any creditors.

Contact details for the three credit agencies are:

Office of Consumer Affairs
P O Box 105169
Atlanta, GA 30348

P O Box 9701
Allen, TX 75013

Trans Union
P O Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834

You will need the deceased’s personal data to request a copy of the credit report. You will also be required to provide data to prove your identity and your relationship to the deceased.

Make a checklist of organizations/institutions to notify

As soon as possible after the death has occurred you should start notifying all the organizations, institutions and authorities. This can be a mammoth task, it may be made easier if the deceased had put their affairs in order, and you may need to enlist some help with this. You will need to notify in writing or by phone:

  • Credit Card companies
  • Banks
  • Loan and Lien holders
  • Mortgage Company

You will need to confirm which accounts are being transferred to surviving family and which are being closed. Any accounts that are to be closed, you should request that a formal statement be added to the record stating, “Account closed. Holder is deceased”.

You will also need to notify as quickly as possible:

  • Social Security Administration (SSA)
  • Insurance companies – life, health, house, auto etc
  • Department of Motor Vehicles
  • Any professional license institutions
  • Memberships of any clubs
  • If a veteran – the Veteran’s Administration (VA)
  • If an immigrant – the US Immigration Services

Due to the rising issue of identity theft, and the fact that many bereaved just do not want to deal with the process of notifying so many agencies, there are companies that undertake this for you. The fees for such a service can vary. Some firms charge a monthly or annual fee for identity protection services and other firms that particularly target supporting the identity protection of the deceased will charge a one-off fixed fee. For example Dignity Shield charges $500.00 to secure your loved one’s identity upon death.

It is recommended that you continue to monitor any use of the deceased’s identity for some time after death. An Identity Protection service will do this for you. You can also check the website to assess the risk status of an identity.

Written by

Sara is the Editor in Chief for US Funerals Online and has been researching and writing about the death care industry in the US for the last 15 years.