Steps to Protect the Deceased from Identity Theft
Because it is oftentimes very painful to discover that a deceased relative or loved one has had their identity stolen after death, there are steps you can take to minimize the risk. Especially after a person spends their entire life protecting their credit and good name, it can be frustrating for the surviving family members to watch while a criminal tarnishes the good name of a deceased loved one.
So here are some things you should know.
Why target the deceased?
The deceased may be vulnerable to ID Theft for many reasons but especially because the information about their death is normally readily available to the public in the form of death notices and obituaries in the newspaper. Identity thieves may then use this information to dig deeper for the deceased’s personal information by getting more information from the death certificate and/or the Social Security Death Index File.
Statistics also show that family members may steal the identity of their deceased relatives because family members have ready access to personal and financial information necessary to commit identity fraud.
Steps to take - usually by the surviving spouse or the executor of the deceased’s estate:
1. Obtain original copies of the official death certificate. It is a good idea to obtain several copies.
2. Provide information on the death to the three national credit reporting agencies.
- As soon as possible, send a letter (certified with return request) to each of the 3
- Request that a “Deceased Alert” be placed on the deceased’s credit report.
- Request a copy of the deceased’s credit report to determine what credit accounts are reported as still open. The credit report should also lists the addresses of the creditors. In the request for the credit report, include the following information on the deceased:
- Social Security Number
- Last address
- Date of birth
- Date of death
- Request that the following statement be added to the credit report “Deceased - Do not issue credit. If an application is made for credit, please call the following immediately for verification ________.” Then list the phone number of either the surviving spouse or the executor.
- You should also include
- A statement describing your relationship to the deceased and in the case of an executor, you should provide a copy of the papers appointing you.
- A copy of your driver’s license or state identification card
- A utility bill (phone, light, gas) that shows your current address
Addresses of the three national credit reporting agencies:
Office of Consumer Affairs
P O Box 105169
Atlanta, GA 30348
3. As soon as possible, notify by telephone and in writing the deceased’s
- credit card companies
- loan and lien holders
- mortgage companies
- stock brokers
As the representative of the deceased, you will give information on how the estate will take care of outstanding debts, and which accounts will be transferred to the survivor or the executor, and which will be closed. If accounts are closed, request the following statement be added to the official record of the account, “Account closed. Holder is deceased.”
4. Alert these other entities also:
- Social Security Administration (SSA)
- Insurance companies (health, life, auto, et al)
- If the deceased is a veteran of military service, the Veteran’s Administration
- If the deceased is not a citizen, the US, Immigration Services
- If the deceased had a driver’s license or state-issued ID card, the Department of Motor Vehicles
- If the deceased had a professional license (Bar Association, American Medical Association, etc.), those agencies
- Memberships (health club, library, museum, entertainment rental
If Identity Theft has already occurred, continue with the steps above as appropriate, and additionally:
- File a police report and alert law enforcement in the deceased’s jurisdiction. Provide evidence of the fraud, like a collection notice, other bills or a credit report
- Notify by certified letter, return receipt requested, the company listed on the collection notice, bills or the credit report
- that fraud is being committed against a deceased person
- include a copy of the death certificate
- request an investigation
- request the company provide you with a letter listing the results of the investigation
- request “Letters of Clearance” for the fraudulent debt