Protecting a deceased loved one from identity theft

On Behalf of | Nov 22, 2019 | Probate and Estate Disputes

If a loved one has passed away, you’re likely dealing with a host of responsibilities involving their estate — particularly if you’re the executor. You’re handling all of this while you’re still in the grieving process. It’s understandable if you’re not thinking about the things unscrupulous people can do to profit off of someone’s death — like stealing their identity. It’s been estimated that almost 2.5 million deceased people in this country alone become identity theft victims every year. People who steal a deceased person’s identity are called “ghosters,” and the activity is called “ghosting.” Many ghosters get the initial information they need by browsing obituary pages and websites. Sites like allow people to post long, detailed obituaries. Relatives’ names, locations where the deceased lived and previous employers can all help ghosters begin to gather more useful information. Experienced ghosters are able to obtain cellphone, driver’s license, credit card and even Social Security numbers You can help thwart would-be identity thieves by holding off a bit on publishing an obituary until you’ve put some protections in place. As you’re writing the obituary (or editing what your loved one wrote), be careful not to include information like the deceased’s date of birth, their precise address or information like their mother’s maiden name that can be used to verify a person’s identity. Before you post an obituary, do at least the following:
  • Send a death certificate to the three credit bureaus and instruct them to note on the person’s credit report that they’re deceased.
  • If the deceased had a driver’s license or ID issued by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BHV) or applicable agency in the state where the person lived, cancel that.
  • If the deceased was eligible for and/or receiving Social Security or other government benefits, notify the Social Security Administration of the death.

It’s also important to keep an eye on the deceased’s bank and other accounts until they can be closed. It’s best if your loved one left a list of those accounts along with their passwords and access information to the executor so that they can be monitored. Be sure that their mail is being collected and perused regularly as well. Your loved one’s estate planning attorney (or any experienced estate planning attorney, if they didn’t have one) can provide you with more detailed guidance to help you protect your loved one’s estate from theft.