Deceased Family Member Identity Theft

This type of identity theft occurs when someone uses the personal information of a deceased person to commit fraud. Learn how to protect your loved one's legacy.

Step 1:Recognize

Red Flags of Deceased Family Member Identity Theft

It can be difficult to keep track of everything after a loved one passes away. Amidst the grief and paperwork, it’s important to also be vigilant about identity theft. Unfortunately, criminals may try to take advantage of your relative’s death to commit fraud. Here are some red flags to watch out for:

  • You receive calls or letters from businesses or organizations addressed to your deceased relative.
  • You see unfamiliar activity on your loved one’s credit report or financial accounts.
  • You are contacted by debt collectors for debts you know nothing about.
  • You receive a tax bill or notice from the IRS for a year in which your relative did not file a return.

Step 2:Immediate Actions

If you think someone has committed identity theft against a deceased loved one, it is important to take action right away. Here are some steps to take:

  • Visit IdentityTheft.gov from the Federal Trade Commission to file a report and create a personalized plan for recovery.
  • Send a copy of the death certificate to each credit reporting agency asking them to place a “deceased alert” on the individual’s credit report.
  • Contact the Social Security Administration and let them know the recipient has passed away.
  • Contact the police department in the deceased person’s jurisdiction if you have evidence of fraud.
  • If the thief is a relative, it may be best to seek advice from an attorney that specializes in estate or family law.
  • Speak to an Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) expert advisor toll-free by phone (888.400.5530) during their normal business hours (6 a.m.-5 p.m. PST) for one-on-one assistance.

Step 3:Report

Reporting any type of cybercrime, including identity theft, is imperative to help others avoid being scammed. As a society, the more people that report online scams and fraud, the more national reporting data that is collected, and the better chance law enforcement has to catch the criminals and decrease cybercrime.

Step 4:Recover

Once you have notified the appropriate organizations, it is time to recover and reinforce your cybersecurity by implementing preventative measures.

  1. Send a copy of the death certificate to the following organizations/agencies, as applicable, and ask them to list the deceased family members accounts as “Closed: Account holder is deceased”:
    1. Internal Revenue Service
    2. Social Security Administration
    3. Credit reporting agencies
    4. Banks/Financial institutions
    5. Credit card providers
    6. Mortgage/Insurance companies
  2. Shred all documents containing the deceased family members personal information.
  3. Regularly check your deceased family member’s credit report for any suspicious activity.

Take 5 Steps for Better Online Security

In addition, it’s important to strengthen your online security to help avoid all types of online scams. Take action to improve your digital posture by following these steps:

  1. Implement Multi Factor Authentication (MFA): Passwords are generally easy for scammers to crack, and even if you use strong passphrases, there’s still the possibility that a cybercriminal can obtain your passphrase in a data breach. Implementing MFA is a great way to maximize your security and ensure that you are the only one who can gain access to your accounts. MFA should be implemented on all accounts where it is available. Check your account’s security settings to see if it is something you can set up.
  2. Update Your Privacy Settings: Privacy settings allow you to control your personal information (name, address, phone number, date of birth, financial details, photos or videos, etc) and how that information is used. Review your privacy settings on all of your accounts including your social media accounts. Consider restricting who can see your friends list, contacts, photos and posts.
  3. Activate Automatic Updates: Automatic updates are a set of changes to an app, software or operating system that are automatically pushed by the developer to fix or improve it. Oftentimes, cybercriminals take advantage of security flaws to plant malicious software on your devices. By activating automatic updates, you will automatically patch security vulnerabilities to protect your data.
  4. Use a Password Manager or Create Strong Passphrases: A password manager is a software tool that securely stores all of your login credentials in one place, allowing you to create and manage strong, unique passwords for all of your accounts. If you are unable to afford a password manager, use strong passphrases. A passphrase is a combination of random words or a sentence that is much longer and more complex than a typical password. Using a passphrase instead of a password makes it much harder for hackers to guess or brute-force their way into your accounts.
  5. Learn the Elements of a Phishing Attempt: Familiarize yourself with the elements of a phishing email. Phishing emails tend to include a sense of urgency and multiple grammar and spelling errors. If they are asking you to reveal personal information, be suspicious. If you get a strange email, try contacting the company another way to confirm they sent that email. If the email is suspicious, mark it as spam.

TestimonialHear from Other Victims

Without Fightcybercrime.org, I don't know if I would have been able to react as quickly to protect my personal information.
Mary - Indianapolis, IN

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