6 Steps to Prevent Identity Theft of the Dead

Dealing with the loss of a loved one is tough enough without being forced to untangle a complicated web of fraudulent charges. Here's what to do if you're in charge of an estate.

6 Steps to Prevent Identity Theft of the Dead Photo (cc) by Mel B.

Everybody knows identity thieves are low-down scoundrels, but how low will they go? Apparently, even six feet under.

Last month, Forbes reported that the IRS paid out more than $12 million in tax refunds to dead people in 2010: victims of identity theft. Proof that these days, it’s not enough to protect your own identity. You have to look out for lost loved ones too.

Watch the video below to learn more about this terrible practice, and then read on for advice to help prevent it…

As mentioned in the video above, it can take up to six months for banks and government agencies to learn of a death on their own. Since criminals can use that window to steal a dead person’s identity, here are the steps you can take to close it:

  1. Get certified copies of the death certificate. The first thing you’ll do if placed in charge of an estate is to contact everyone the deceased dealt with by phone to notify them. While you’re on the phone, find out the process for closing or transferring ownership of the account. Nearly all financial institutions will require a death certificate to begin the process. Some may accept photocopies, but most won’t: You’ll need a certified copy for each. As added protection, also send a certified copy to each of the credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.)
  2. Contact financial institutions in writing. Once you understand what each agency or institution wants, prepare it in writing with all the supporting documentation. What they require will differ by institution, but you’ll most likely need to include the name and Social Security number of the deceased, dates of birth and death, home addresses for the past five years, and a copy of the death certificate. Keep copies of all correspondence.
  3. Keep the obit vague. When memorializing a loved one in the newspaper, realize the information is going public and may be seen by identity thieves. Try to avoid using the full date of birth, middle and maiden names, and home address.
  4. Be careful dumping documents. Make sure to shred any paperwork or junk mail belonging to the deceased before throwing it out, just as you would to protect your own identity. To opt out of junk mail offers, go to OptOutPreScreen.com, or call 1-888-5-OPTOUT begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 1-888-5-OPTOUT end_of_the_skype_highlighting (1-888-567-8688 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 1-888-567-8688 end_of_the_skype_highlighting) to have a name removed from direct marketing lists.
  5. Request a credit report. Request from all three credit reporting agencies a copy of the deceased’s credit report. Here’s a form with addresses from the Identity Theft Center that will help. When you get the report, check it for new or suspicious activity, look for accounts that are still open, and make sure the agency flags the report with a notice of death.
  6. Freeze their credit. The policies and fees for doing this vary by state, but they prevent any new credit being granted in the deceased’s name. Consumers Union has information about each state’s policies and exceptions. Note that this won’t prevent new credit being granted by institutions the deceased has an existing relationship with – which is why it’s so important to notify them and close those accounts.

Want more advice on protecting yourself and loved ones from identity theft? Check out 10 Top Tips For Free Identity Theft Protection.

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