Sadly, after a loved one dies, a criminal could still use their personal information to commit fraud. Sometimes referred to as “ghosting,” this type of identity theft can add stress to an already difficult time. What can families do to stay safe? If you have an Allstate Identity Protection family plan, you can add the deceased to your account for an extra layer of detection.
According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), thieves steal the identities of many deceased Americans every year.
Even after someone dies, it’s still possible for criminals to use their information to illegally open credit cards, apply for loans, file fraudulent tax returns, and buy goods and services.
In some cases, thieves intentionally steal the identity of someone who has died — a practice known as ghosting. In others, a criminal forges a Social Security number that happens to align with a deceased person’s.
In either scenario, a surviving loved one typically gets tipped off by a bill or collection attempt months or even years after their loved one has passed.
Identity theft after a death can put additional strain on grieving family members in an already difficult time. If someone you care about has passed, we’re here to guide you. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Don’t share personally identifiable information in an obituary
When someone you love dies, be mindful about what you include in their obituary. Sadly, identity thieves can mine personally identifiable information (PII) like a person’s birth date, address, and mother’s maiden name from obituaries and other digital records (for example, social media accounts).
Using that PII, especially in combination with the deceased’s Social Security number — which thieves can sometimes dig up on the dark web — fraudsters may be able to obtain loans and open credit cards using your loved one’s established credit.
Notify creditors, banks, and the government of your loved one’s passing
In order to help ensure fraud doesn’t happen, it’s important for surviving family members — or the executor of the deceased person’s will — to alert creditors, banks, and government agencies of their loved one’s death.
Don’t assume that institutions will be notified automatically, or that other service providers — like the funeral home, for example — will send death notices.
“The funeral home or mortuary is only required to report the death to the Social Security Administration; they don’t notify anybody else,” says April Melheim, Allstate Identity Protection Restoration Manager.
Still, it’s a good idea to confirm that the funeral home did indeed alert the Social Security office. If they didn’t, you’ll want to provide that government agency with a death certificate and notice.
You should also contact the local DMV to cancel your loved one’s driver’s license, if applicable.
Then, you’ll need to promptly alert one of the major national credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — of your loved one’s death. (Whichever agency you contact will alert the others on your behalf.) Ask them to flag the account owner as “deceased”. This prevents anyone from fraudulently reopening the account at a later date.
From there, notify banks and credit card companies of the death, again providing a copy of the death certificate.
“It’s also a good idea to review a copy of your loved one’s credit report,” Melheim says. If you know your relative’s credit score and any existing debt, it’ll be easier to identify any posthumous changes — which are, of course, red flags for fraud.
When sharing copies of your loved one’s death certificate — a document that contains sensitive PII itself — opt for a return receipt so you know that it reached the agency or bureau safely.
Warning signs of fraud after the death of a loved one
After your loved one has passed, how will you know if they fall victim to identity theft?
Posthumous charges to credit or debit cards are, of course, a major tipoff. If this occurs, contact the business that ran the charge as well as the credit card company to report the fraud.
Other warning signs are more subtle, such as an abrupt stop to mail addressed to your loved one. Using PII gathered from an obituary or online, fraudsters may file a change of address with the postal service. Their goal? To gain access to mail with account numbers and other sensitive information.
If your deceased loved one is a member of your Allstate Identity Protection plan, you’ll receive notifications about any suspicious credit activity just as you would a living family member on the plan. You can also add a qualifying family member to your plan even after they’ve passed.
Estate planning and your identity
Whether you’re helping an aging parent get their estate in order or are planning your own, it’s helpful to have all financial information — like details about any loans, credit cards, investment funds, and more — easily (and securely) accessible.
“If you have instructions that are set up for the event of your passing, you may want to include steps your loved ones should take to minimize your risk of identity theft,” says Melheim. “For example, you may want to tell them to send a copy of your death certificate to the credit bureaus.”
“The more information and the more directives you give, the better off your loved ones will be in the event of your passing,” she adds. “They’ll then be able to focus on other things — like celebrating your legacy.”