No grieving family wants to add identify theft to their list of worries during an already difficult time. Unfortunately, a growing number of identity thieves are targeted the identities of deceased people, using names and other identifying information to obtain credit cards, loans, refunds based on fraudulent tax returns, and even false proof of U.S. citizenship. Although family members are not personally responsible for the debts of their deceased loved ones, survivors will need to resolve the situation if a loved one’s identity is stolen. This will be easier if you and your family can prevent identity theft from happening.
How Can you Protect a Deceased Loved One’s Identity?
Thieves will not wait long before trying to steal and use your loved one’s identity to open accounts. A spouse, family member, or the executor of the person’s estate should take immediate action to prevent their personal information from being stolen.
- Don’t reveal personal information. Although some criminals obtain personal information from funeral homes or hospitals, it is more common for them to look for this information online or in print obituaries. So it is important not to list the deceased person’s birth date, address, or mother’s maiden name, which, along with the person’s full name, could be used to illegally access the person’s Social Security number. Exercise similar caution when posting a notice on social media.
- Take immediate steps to close credit accounts. Look for the deceased person’s credit cards in wallets or purses and contact those companies to notify them of the death and close the accounts. The Identity Theft Council, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to prevent and remediate identity theft, also recommends obtaining a copy of the person’s credit report from annualcreditreport.com to learn about all the accounts currently open in the person’s name. Alternatively, a family member or the executor can mail a request to the credit bureaus providing certain identifying information for themselves and their loved one, as well as a death certificate. At that point, they can contact any other creditors listed to notify them that the account holder has died. This will prevent thieves from using any existing credit card accounts.
- Contact all banks, investment companies, lenders, or mortgage companies. Even if a surviving spouse is also an account holder, these companies will need to be notified of the death. Warning: Although regulatory protections exist for credit card accounts and bank deposits which limit losses from unauthorized transactions, there is no similar protection for mutual funds, brokerage investments, or retirement accounts, so it is important to notify these companies as soon as possible.
- Notify the three major credit bureaus. To prevent new credit from being obtained with the deceased person’s identify, the main credit bureaus must be notified in writing. Although the Social Security Administration will eventually contact the credit bureaus to notify them that a person has died, this often does not occur for months. Send a letter and a copy of your loved one’s death certificate via certified mail with a return receipt to each of the three credit bureaus–Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion–to request that a deceased alert be placed on the credit report. In addition, request that a surviving relative or the executor be notified if an application for credit is made. You may also have to include proof of your relationship as you do this, for example, a marriage license. To expedite the notification process even further, Experian allows the family to upload the death certificate directly to its system, and Equifax allows family members to email the death certificate to it (but keep in mind that email may be insecure).
- Notify the Social Security Administration (SSA). Funeral directors often report deaths to the SSA as part of the services they offer to the family, but the responsibility for ensuring that the notification is given is ultimately on the survivors, who should contact their local Social Security office or call the SSA’s toll-free number. This notification is especially important if the deceased person was collecting benefits.
- Notify the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). To prevent thieves from filing a fraudulent tax return to obtain a refund in the deceased person’s name, mail the IRS a copy of the death certificate, indicating the address the person used to file tax returns. A copy of the death certificate should also be sent to the IRS with the deceased person’s final tax return.
- Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles. Cancel your loved one’s driver’s license so that a criminal cannot fraudulently obtain a new one.
- Monitor the deceased person’s credit report. Check your loved one’s reports regularly to ensure that there is no credit activity, and if there is, contact the police, the credit bureaus, and the creditor as soon as possible.
- Notify any other relevant groups. Contact entities that could have your loved one’s personal information or may have been providing benefits to him or her, for example, the Veteran’s Administration if the deceased person was a veteran, Medicare, or professional licensing agencies.
If you discover that your loved one’s identity has been stolen, immediately contact the police and any company involved.
Contact Us Today With Any Questions.
The stress induced by identity theft can make the loss of a loved one even more painful. We can ensure that you and the executor of your loved one’s estate take all the steps necessary to prevent their identity from being stolen. Contact us today to discuss this or any of your estate planning concerns.