ID Theft Resources

What is Ghosting? One More Form of Identity Theft

Written for Symantec

It may not be what you envisioned, but apparently there can be life after death. It’s called “ghosting,” and it’s both scary and surprising.

Ghosting is a form of identity theft. It occurs when someone uses the personal information of a dead person, often for monetary gain. A savvy criminal can take over bank accounts, apply for new credit cards, and even file for fraudulent tax refunds. Ghosting often happens shortly after someone dies, before the death is widely known. That’s because it can be months after a person dies before entities like credit reporting agencies, the Social Security Administration, and the IRS receive, share or register death records.

Some 2.5 million identities are stolen each year from deceased individuals. And you need only look in the obituary section of a newspaper to see where identity thieves find the information they need. There, they can obtain a potential victim’s full name, maiden name, date of birth, place of birth, place of residence at death, mother’s maiden name, and even where the victim went to school and was employed.

With that information, it’s often not difficult to track down additional information online, such as the deceased’s home address. And given the number of data breaches involving Social Security numbers, it’s possible an identity thief could track that number down, as well, perhaps purchasing it from another criminal.

Criminals can often get away with ghosting because no one may be aware anything fraudulent is going on. The deceased can’t check their credit reports for unfamiliar activity.

How can you help protect your family from ghosting? These tips may help:

  • Limit the amount of personal information you share about the deceased in newspaper and online obituaries.
  • Notify the Social Security Administration of the death. In most cases, this is handled by the funeral home handling the arrangements.
  • Send the IRS a copy of the death certificate so that the agency can note that the person is deceased. The death certificate may be sent to the IRS office where the deceased would normally file a tax return or a copy of the death certificate may be sent with the final tax return.
  • Send copies of the death certificate to each credit reporting agency asking them to put a “deceased alert” on the deceased’s credit report.
  • Review the deceased’s credit report for questionable credit card activity.

Losing a loved one is difficult enough. By taking a few simple steps after a family member’s death, you can help protect their identity and, in doing so, help protect the family from further emotional suffering.

Symantec Corporation, the world’s leading cyber security company, allows organizations, governments, and people to secure their most important data wherever it lives. More than 50 million people and families rely on Symantec’s Norton and LifeLock comprehensive digital safety platform to help protect their personal information, devices, home networks, and identities.

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