Death And ID Theft: The Ugly Reality

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To prevent the misuse of your loved one's identity, you must be proactive and quickly report the death to government and financial agencies.
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Disclaimer: The below is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.

When someone passes away, their family members have a lot of emotional, financial, and legal issues to sort through. One death-related complication you might not anticipate is the identity theft of your recently departed relative.

Though it seems heartless and morbid, stealing a dead person’s social security number and personal information is more common than you think. The AARP reports that fraudsters use the identities of 2.5 million deceased Americans every year to open credit cards, apply for loans, sign up for cell phone services, and more.

To prevent the misuse of your loved one’s identity, you must be proactive and quickly report the death to government and financial agencies. Here are a few steps you should take to protect your relative’s identity after they’ve passed.

1. Get Multiple Copies Of The Death Certificate

Most organizations require official proof of death before closing a deceased person’s account or credit file. The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) recommends ordering at least 12 copies of your relative’s death certificate to provide to various creditors and service providers. When you receive them, confirm that all information listed about your relative is accurate, including their Social Security number.

2. Notify The Social Security Administration And DMV

Once you have copies of the death certificate, alert the government of your relative’s death. Funeral directors often contact Social Security on behalf of the deceased, but it’s a good idea to confirm this directly with the Administration. Equifax then recommends notifying the Department of Motor Vehicles to discourage duplicate driver’s licenses from being issued to identity thieves.

3. Obtain The Deceased’s Credit Report And Contact Creditors

You probably don’t know every financial account your loved one had open at the time of their death. Pulling their credit report will show you which agencies you’ll need to contact about their passing. Keep in mind that you can only obtain your relative’s credit report if you are the spouse or estate executor, or hold power of attorney for the deceased.

You may also want to run a public records search on BeenVerified to uncover things that a credit report won’t show. For example, if your relative had an outstanding judgment or tax debt you weren’t aware of, you’ll need to find that information to contact the appropriate parties.

With all your relative’s records in hand, you can begin making phone calls and submitting documentation to close out their bank accounts, credit cards, loans, etc.

4. Send Written Notification To The Major Credit Bureaus

The Social Security Administration eventually contacts the three major credit reporting agencies of a person’s death, but this often takes months, according to Neal O’Farrell, executive director of the Identity Theft Council. As soon as possible, send a written request to Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion to close your relative’s credit file, along with the death certificate and proof that you have the legal right to make the request.

“Thieves won’t hesitate to take advantage of the grief family members might be going through, so the sooner you can alert the credit bureaus, the lower the risk,” O’Farrell said in an interview with Money magazine.

The ITRC says to ask for a “deceased alert” on the report, indicating that credit should not be issued under that name and social security number. You should also designate who to notify if someone fraudulently applies for credit.

Losing a loved one is painful enough, and managing their affairs can be a difficult and time-consuming task. However, it’s worth the effort to make sure your relative doesn’t become a victim of posthumous identity theft.

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