Protecting the Identities of the Deceased

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This week brought an influx of news on the amount of identity theft which occurred involving the deceased. The massive amounts of cases were split into a couple scenarios.  One way thieves were committing the crime was by harvesting information from those known to be deceased.  Thieves were also creating synthetic identities which then became associated with a deceased person. This is quite terrifying to say the least. 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 being said, below are a few ways to protect the identities of our deceased loved ones:

  • Obtain at least 12 copies of the certified death certificate. 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 notify the company 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 is 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. You will need to follow-up with a letter. Include the following on all letters sent to credit issuers, the credit reporting agencies, etc. Name and SSN of deceased, last known address, last 5 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 the all 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 ask for all contact information on accounts currently open in the name of the deceased (credit granters, collection agencies, etc). You will need to follow through with those entities
  • Keep copies of all correspondence, noting date sent and any response(s) you receive.

You may also want to contact any organizations that 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.

 

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Nikki Junker

Nikki Junker is Social Media Coordinator and Victim Advisor at The Identity Theft Resource Center. She specializes in Identity Theft on social networks and smartphones. She enjoys working one on one with victims of identity theft as well as researching and writing about preventative measures for consumers.