Identity thieves are targeting deceased persons by using their Social Security number and name to open up new credit cards, apply for loans, file tax returns and collect tax refunds, and obtain other goods and services such as cell phones. Approximately 2.5 million fraudulent accounts are established each year by identity thieves. Out of those, approximately 800,000, or 2,200 a day, are targeted intentionally by these thieves. The remaining accounts are a result of a random selection of numbers that happen to be an exact match to a decedent.
One of the easiest ways for identity thieves to obtain a decedent’s name and other information is by getting the information from obituary announcements and other print or online sources that contain death announcements. For as little as $10.00, thieves can also obtain a deceased person’s Social Security number illegally on the Internet and start opening credit card and bank accounts. Thieves know once a person passes away, there is a slim chance any family members are monitoring the decedent’s credit report.
As part of the estate administration, it is a good strategy for estate practitioners to include a checklist for executors or personal representatives advising them on how to ensure their deceased love one is not the target of identity theft.
Here are six tips that can be considered to help families protect the decedent’s personal information from getting into the wrong hands:
- Starting with obituaries- the announcement should limit information to the decedent’s name and refrain from giving out personal information such as the decedent’s address or mother’s maiden name. This makes it harder for the thief to get the Social Security number of the decedent and protects the decedent’s house from getting robbed the day of the funeral. You would be surprised at the number of decedents whose homes are robbed shortly after their deaths.
- Another good tip is for the personal representative or family member to write or call the Social Security office at (800) 772-1213 and advise them of the date of the decedent’s death. The same should be done with the IRS, in addition to filing any required estate returns. Since it may take the IRS and the Social Security office up to six months to update their records after someone passes away in the normal course of their business, alerting them to the fact sooner will protect your loved one’s personal information and prevent fraud.
- Advising the decedent’s bank, other financial institutions, and creditors such as credit card companies and other debtors of the decedent’s death should be taken care of immediately. Requesting that any accounts held in the decedent’s name be closed as a result of the decedent’s death helps reduce the chance that someone might be tampering with the decedent’s financial accounts or opening new ones in the decedent’s name.
- The three national credit bureaus are: Equifax (800-685-1111), Experian (888-397-3742) and TransUnion (800-916-8800). Sending a certified copy of the decedent’s death certificate to these three credit bureaus and asking them to report that the decedent has died will stop thieves from opening credit cards in the decedent’s name.
- It is also a good idea to write to the DMV asking them to immediately cancel the decedent’s driver’s license as a precaution against thieves getting hold of the driver’s license number and using it to establish credit card accounts or take out loans using the decedent’s name.
- Family members should also contact police and make an identity theft report about any suspicious activity that has occurred with regard to a relative’s financial accounts.
As an estate planning attorney, making family members and personal representatives of estates aware of the importance of advising government and financial institutions immediately of a loved one’s death is the best protection you can give them against their loved one falling victim to an identity theft crime after they have passed away.
Sanford M. Fisch
CEO & Co-Founder
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (800) 846-1555