Ghosting - Identity Theft After Death

It will come as no surprise to learn that thieves have no shame when it comes to stealing the identity of someone who has recently died. Every year, over two million families have to face the horrific scenario of dealing with a loved one's identity theft after they have passed away.

Unfortunately, criminals will waste no time in taking advantage of a family's grief. By stealing personal information from hospitals or funeral homes, or trolling through obituaries, criminals can find someone's social security number online for just a couple of bucks. This allows them to take out fraudulent loans and lines of credit in the name of the deceased, which can often take months or even years to discover and deal with.

Once they are aware of a death, the Social Security Administration should notify credit bureaus when a person dies. However, this can take months to happen. This leaves ample time for criminals to open lines of credit in the deceased's name. To protect the identity of a loved one after their death and save your family further stress at a time of intense grief, you need to take things into your own hands and contact the three major credit bureaus yourself. The sooner you alert the bureaus, the lower the risk of identity theft.

Steps to take to protect your loved one's identity

There are many tasks that need to be completed when a loved one dies. Below are steps that should be taken to freeze your loved one's credit and protect their identity after death. Because there are several tasks that need to be completed, it is best that one person handles all of them to avoid confusion. Where possible this should be the executor (or executors) of the deceased's estate or their spouse. Take careful notes of dates of communications, people you speak with, next steps, and copies of any written communication.

Contact the Social Security Administration

As soon as possible, contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) to inform them of the death.A good number to reach them is 1-800-772-1213.Oftentimes the funeral home or burial director will make this call, but it is better to not leave that to chance. The SSA will require the full name of the deceased, a social security number and address of last residence. They will also want to know your relationship.

Contact the Credit Bureaus

You should call each of the three major credit bureaus and notify them of the death. They will require the same information as the SSA.During your calls, confirm with them the documents they will need you to provide to freeze the credit of the deceased and also ask them how to obtain a credit report. Required documents will typically include a certified death certificate and certified Letters Testamentary or other documents which authorize you to act on behalf of the deceased.

The major credit bureaus are:

  • Experian: 888-397-3742
  • Equifax: 888-202-4025
  • TransUnion: 800-916-8800 or 800-680-7289

Send a letter to each credit bureau requesting that they put a deceased indicator on your loved one's file and freeze their credit report to stop fraudulent activity.Also ask for the credit report.With the letter enclose any documentation that they have told you they require.

Mailing addresses are as follows:

Experian

P.O. Box 4500

Allen, TX 75013

Equifax

P.O. Box 740256

Atlanta, GA 30374

Transunion

P.O. Box 2000

Chester, PA 19016-2000

Send your letters certified mail, return receipt requested. This will provide proof that your letter was received by each bureau.

Soon after the credit bureaus have received your letter, you should receive confirmation from them that they have updated the credit file of the deceased to indicate the acknowledgement of their death.In their response communication, you should receive instructions on how to obtain the credit report.This will typically involve a written request for the credit report, a certified death certificate and a document that proves you have the authority to act on the behalf of the deceased.

Obtain a Credit Report

After you have requested and received the credit report, you will be able to get a clear idea of your loved one's financial situation at the time of their death. You will be able to see all of their open bank accounts, credit cards and any outstanding loans.

Communicate with any Creditors

Contact each of the creditors listed on the credit report. They should close the accounts and put a deceased indicator on each individual account to prevent fraudulent activity. If there is a balance due on any accounts, you can work that out with the creditor or your financial advisor.

Don't let your family be put under further emotional strain at this difficult time. If you will take the steps listed in this article you may save yourself additional turmoil in the future. 

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