Ghosting: Don’t Let Your Deceased Loved One Become A Victim Of Identity Theft

June 15, 2015

By Supervising Attorney Michael G. Stern

When it comes to identity theft, everyone is fair game, especially the deceased.  In fact, stealing the personal identification of the departed is so common that it even has a name in the identity theft world: Ghosting. Each year, over 2.5 million deceased Americans are the victims of identity theft, according to a 2012 study by ID Analytics’ ID:A Labs. Think about it, unless someone is checking a deceased loved one’s credit report, who will complain about any fraudulent activity?

The process of ghosting identity theft begins with scammers looking through the obituaries for any information they find useful. Once they have the information they need, the scammers apply for credit cards and loans, file for tax refunds, finance cell phone purchases, etc., using the personal information of the deceased. Furthermore, since there is usually a delay in receiving and processing death records by financial institutions, credit bureaus and Social Security Administration, the scammers have several months before anyone gets wind of the problem.

While you are most likely not responsible for the fraudulent activity under your loved one’s name, getting it corrected can take time and a lot of heartache. Try to do the steps below as quickly as possible, so you can put the proper entities on notice and help reduce the opportunity for ghosting and any problems that might arise from it:

  1. Notify the Social Security Administration of the person’s death and send them a copy of the death certificate.
  2. Notify the Department of Motor Vehicles.
  3. Send copies of the death certificate to the following credit bureaus and ask them to place a deceased alert on the credit report: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
  4. Do not include the deceased’s birth date or mother’s maiden name in the obituary.  The less personal information the better. Additionally, do not include the home address of the deceased; as sad as it may seem, scammers may attempt to burglarize the home.
  5. Notify credit card companies and financial institutions and be prepared to send them a copy of the death certificate.
  6. Notify the Veteran’s Administration if the deceased was a veteran.
  7. After a few weeks from when the loved one died, either the surviving spouse or the executor should order a copy of the deceased’s credit report to make sure there has not been any fraudulent activity.

Losing your loved one is hard enough, and I hope that becoming aware of the problem of ghosting will help you avoid that horrible scenario.  This article is only intended for informational purposes and is not meant to be all inclusive. If you have any questions about your particular situation, you should consult with an attorney.