In complete disregard of respect or compassion, identity thieves are after a new, even more helpless target. The bull’s-eye? Great credit. No pulse.
That’s right—identity thieves are going after the dead. Imagine the horror of discovering that a deceased loved one’s name and Social Security number have been stolen and abused for the financial and personal gain of an identity thief.
These crooks can open loans, buy a new home or car, receive medical services, start a new cellphone plan or even commit a felony. Someone is left to clean up the mess, and the crime is more common than you think.
The Impact and the Bill
According to a new report, identity thieves misuse the personal information of nearly 2.5 million deceased Americans each year. That means more than 2,000 identities of dead people are misused each day.1 A large portion of this statistic is due to identity thieves simply using a fabricated Social Security number, that happens to belong to someone that passed away And the rest consists of identity thieves intentionally targeting dead people.
With nowhere else to go, debt collectors go after the victim’s families who are then stuck with the damage and bill. And the same report detected a disturbing amount of misuse involving the Social Security numbers of the dying—causing damage before the family has a chance to discover it.
Sadly, robbing the grave is an easy means to success for identity thieves. Obituaries and other public records commonly contain personal information. The Social Security Administration even compiles a list of the deceased, including SSNs, that is open to the public. And with a stolen piece of mail or hacked records—identity thieves can piece together a complete profile.
Rest in Peace
There are several steps you can take to fend off grave-robbing identity thieves. While it can be tedious and frustrating to take the necessary steps during a period of mourning, it could protect you, your family and the deceased’s good name.
- Do not reveal too much information in the obituary. In fact, it’s recommended to not even disclose the entire birthdate.
- Notify the appropriate organizations of your loved one’s death. Start by calling the Social Security Administration and all three of the credit bureaus. You may need to send them a copy of the death certificate. Then, contact any financial institutions or groups that the deceased had a relationship with—banks, brokers, etc.
- Cancel the deceased’s driver’s license and keep any documents containing personal information in a locked safe.
- Fill out the final tax return. This will help ensure that identity thieves won’t get their hands on it.
- Keep an eye out for warning signs—pre-approved credit cards, bills and more. If you do suspect identity theft, contact the Federal Trade Commission immediately.
Social Security Administration: 1-800-772-1213
- Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
- Transunion: 1-800-680-7289
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
1 Leamy, Elizabeth. “Your Deceased Relative Could Be A Victim of Identity Theft.” Abcnews.go.com. May 14, 2012.
† Federal Trade Commission. “Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book For
January – December 2011.” February 2012.
† Javelin Strategy & Research. "2012 Identity Fraud Report: Social Media and Mobile Forming
the New Fraud Frontier." February 2012.