If you’ve recently lost a loved one, you may be dealing with a lot of emotions and paperwork. One thing you may not be expecting is identity theft. Unfortunately, criminals often target the recently deceased by committing something called ghosting. Ghosting is a type of identity theft where someone steals the identity of a dead person.
Here’s what you need to know about protecting your loved one’s identity – and your own – after they’ve passed away.
The Risk of Ghosting After Someone Passes Away
When a loved one dies, their personal information may end up in the wrong hands. This can happen if someone loses or steals important documents, or if someone accesses their accounts without permission. Once criminals have your loved one’s information, they can use it to open new accounts. They can also use it to make unauthorized charges and even commit tax fraud.
What to Do if You Suspect Ghosting
Identity theft can be especially devastating during an already difficult time. You have to deal with the loss of a loved one, as well as the financial and emotional fallout of identity theft. There are steps you can take to resolve the issue and protect their legacy:
- Report the crime to the proper authorities. This can include:
- The police department in the deceased person’s jurisdiction,
- The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3),
- The Federal Trade Commission,
- and/or your state attorney general’s office.
- Contact the credit reporting agencies and send them a copy of the death certificate. They will be able to place a “deceased alert” on your loved one’s credit report.
- Contact the Social Security Administration and let them know the recipient has passed away.
- Shred any documents that contain the deceased family member’s personal information.
- If the thief is a relative, it may be best to seek advice from an attorney specializing in estate or family law.
How to Protect Your Loved One’s Identity
There are a few things you can do to protect your loved one’s identity after they’ve passed away.
- Send a copy of their death certificate to organizations and agencies as applicable to the IRS, Social Security Administration, credit reporting agencies, bank/financial institutions, credit card providers, insurance providers and mortgage companies. Ask them to place a notice on the account stating that the account is closed because the account holder is deceased.
- Report your loved one’s death to the major credit reporting agencies so they can place a deceased alert on your loved one’s file. This will make it more difficult for criminals to open new accounts in their name. You’ll also want to request copies of their credit reports to check for any suspicious activity. You will need a copy of the death certificate and proof that you’re legally authorized to act on their half.
- It’s also a good idea to request a copy of your loved one’s credit report from all three credit reporting agencies—TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. This will give you a list of accounts that you can use to notify the creditors of the death.
- Shred or destroy important documents that contain their Social Security number, address, and other sensitive information. In addition, close any accounts that they no longer use.
Identity theft can become a serious issue after a loved one passes away, but by staying vigilant and taking action quickly if you suspect fraud, you can help to minimize the damage and keep your loved one’s legacy intact.