Identity Theft – 21st Century Grave Robbers

by A-Badgero

In today’s online world, identity theft has become a serious problem. Learn how to protect yourself from fraud.

When faced with the death of a loved one, there are many things on your mind… you are planning a funeral, you are grieving and wondering how you will cope with your loss. Most people don’t think about having to protect your loved one’s name and reputation after their death. Sadly, this is becoming a necessary step in post death planning.

Evidently, the dead must depend on their surviving loved ones to report their death not only to the authorities but also to any agencies or businesses that would have access to their personal information. If this status change does not happen in a timely manner, identity thieves will easily find their opportunities. There is currently no mandatory system in place for notifying financial institutions of the death of one of their clients. An account will remain active until the financial institution receives proper notification of the death. Accounts can be active for up to 10 years without any activity.

Websites that have been developed to allow loved ones to create memorials for those passed are being used by identity thieves to collect the information they need to acquire legal documents that make it easy for them to open accounts and get credit in the deceased’s name. Unfortunately it’s a relatively easy process, scammers will scroll through obituaries for names and addresses. They can then use that information to purchase social security numbers and other personal data. Credit histories and other information are easy to get online and cost as little as $15. There are many cheap or even free outlets online that make this offence very easy to accomplish.

The Social Security Administration has run a Master Death Index since 1980. It is a searchable database that allows users to enter a name and receive social security numbers of deceased persons that match their search, this service is completely free and unnervingly easy to locate.
A bill proposed in Washington aims to restrict access to this public list of social security numbers. Several families who have been affected by the ease of availability of this information are pushing to have it passed. One family, in Cape Cod found out more than a year after their 16 year old son’s passing that someone had been using him as a dependent on their tax returns. They were horrified to learn that all of their son’s personal information was available online for all to see. “It’s appalling. It’s horrific, and as grieving parents, it turns the knife in your heart a little deeper,” says Carol Bellis, mother of the 16 year old. Effective November 1, 2011, the Social Security Administration (SSA) changed its policy on what records it will use as source material for adding new entries in the Public Death Master File (DMF) as they can no longer share some of these death records as per the Social Security Act. But this doesn’t end the problem. State vital statistics offices are the first point of collection for death data and until a law is passed, identity thieves can still access the information they need.

How is identity theft accomplished? Often fraudsters will fill out several credit card applications and often have them sent to a local vacant home so that they can swing by and pick up the new cards daily. In some cases the person stealing the deceased’s information is not necessarily the person applying for the credit cards or opening up new accounts in the deceased’s name. Often these thieves are able to sell the information online to others with bad credit who are looking for a means to continue frivolous spending or to attain large items that their own credit would not allow such as a vehicle.

It is important when a loved one passes to locate and secure any personal and financial documents they may have left behind. Make sure to collect all items such as their wallet, ID, bank and credit card statements and hospital records. You will also want to be careful to whom you give access to these documents, keep it limited. It is a sad reality but family members have also been known to commit fraud with a loved one’s identity.

In most cases the family or the estate will not be liable for items charged after a death however, you can imagine how distressed one would feel having to fill out paperwork and reports at a time when they should be thinking of their loved one with fond memories.

Here are some tips to avoid this new form of fraud:

* When writing an obituary do not include the deceased’s address and only use the year for their date of birth nothing too specific.

* Make sure to promptly notify Social Security Administration of the death. 800-772-1213

* Mail copies of the death certificate to all three credit-reporting certificates- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion

* Contact your state department of motor vehicles and cancel any driver’s license to prevent duplicates from being issued.

* To check for suspicious activity you can go – it’s suggested that you use this service several weeks following the death to ensure no fraud has been committed.

Important Contacts:
Social Security Administration: 1-800-772-1213. Open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday
TTY number: 1-800-325-0778

TransUnion PO Box 6790 Fullerton, CA 92834

Equifax Office of Fraud Assistance PO Box 105069 Atlanta, GA 30348

Experian PO Box 9530 Allen, TX 75013

For examples of sample letters to send to the creditor or collection agency you can go to California Office of Privacy Protection

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