Preventing Identity Theft After Death

We’ve all gotten used to trying to protect ourselves from identity thieves. Unfortunately, identity thieves not only steal from the living, but also from those who have died recently. This can be a real headache for the victim’s survivors.

How can we better guard our loved ones’ identities after death?

1. Notify the Social Security Administration. The SSA wants to know as soon as possible when someone has died. Most often, the funeral director will notify the SSA. If a funeral director is not involved for some reason, you can also do so yourself.

2. Notify the credit bureaus. There are three bureaus to worry about: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The credit bureaus get notices of death from the SSA, but that may take too much time. If you notify them yourself, each of the bureaus will want a copy of the death certificate. The California Attorney General has sample letters for notifying both credit bureaus and creditors or collectors of the deceased person’s death.

3. Leave key pieces of information out of the obituary. A well-written obituary can be a powerful tribute to the deceased. It can also be a useful tool for thieves. Obituaries often provide the full name of the deceased, dates of birth and death, names of family members, including the mother’s maiden name, and current address. They shouldn’t. Besides identity theft, burglars have also used obituaries to plan their break-ins (link goes to an auto-play video, sorry).

4. Gather documents with key information. If you’re lucky, the deceased will make this easy on you, and have all that material together. If not, you should gather up bank statements, credit card statements, brokerage account records, and any other financial information laying around. Also, gather identifying documents, such as birth certificates, driver’s licenses, social security cards, and other documents with valuable personal information.

5. Contact financial services providers. Let them know that their customer is deceased and ask them to freeze the account so nothing gets taken in the meantime. Often, those providers require death certificates–so you might as well get plenty of copies.

6. Do a credit report check. Each year, you can request a credit report from each of the three credit bureaus. You can do that at annualcreditreport.com. You do not have to request them all at once, and you can order one right away, and then the other two later on to monitor changes.

No one wants to deal with these tasks after losing a loved one. That’s exactly what identity thieves are counting on. By acting quickly, you can protect your loved one and save yourself headaches down the road.

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Photo credit: Flickr user Nick Royer, licensed under CC 2.0

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