By Nikki Junker, Identity Theft Resource Center
Recently we’ve seen an influx of news on the amount of identity theft that has occurred involving the deceased. The vast number of cases fall into a couple scenarios. One way identity thieves are committing the crime is by harvesting information from those known to be deceased. Another way is by creating synthetic identities which then become associated with a deceased person. This is a terrifying prospect. When a loved one passes away, the last thing we want to think about is if there will be credit cards opened in the future using their information. That said, ignoring an increasingly common threat is not an option. Below are a few ways to protect the identities of our deceased loved ones:
- Obtain at least 12 copies of the certified death certificate for your use in managing accounts. In some cases, you will be able to use a photocopy, but some businesses will request an original. Since many death records are public, a death certificate alone may not suffice.
- Immediately notify credit card companies, banks, stock brokers, loan/lien holders, and mortgage companies of the death. The executor or surviving spouse will need to discuss all outstanding debts. If you close the account, ask them to list it as: “Closed. Account holder is deceased.” If there is a surviving spouse or other joint account holders, make sure to inform the company that the account needs to be listed in that surviving person’s name alone. They may require a copy of the death certificate to do this, as well as permission from the survivor.
- Immediately contact the credit reporting agencies. Request that the report be flagged with the following alert: “Deceased. Do not issue credit. If an application is made for credit, notify the following person(s) immediately: (list the next surviving relative, executor/trustee of the estate and/or local law enforcement agency- noting the relationship).
- You will need to do this in writing and you will need to follow-up with a letter. Include the following on all letters sent to credit issuers, credit reporting agencies, etc.: Name and SSN of deceased; last known address; last five years of addresses; date of birth; and, date of death. To speed up processing, include all requested documentation in the first letter.
- Send all mail as certified, return receipt requested.
- Contact all the CRAs and request a copy of the decedent’s credit report. The report will let you know of any active credit cards that still need to be closed, or any pending collection notices. Be sure to request all the contact information on accounts currently open in the name of the deceased (credit grantors, collection agencies, etc). You will need to follow through with those entities until those accounts are closed.
- Keep copies of all correspondence, noting the date sent and any response(s) you receive.
You may also want to contact any organizations the deceased may have been affiliated with, professionally or personally, and make sure their death is noted. Losing those close to us is a difficult experience and identity theft is not something that should add to the grief.