Steps to Avoid Becoming a Victim Survivor
Postmortem identity theft happens when a scammer obtains information from an obituary or stolen death certificate, or buys personal information about a deceased person off the Internet for an alarmingly low fee. With the stolen information, thieves open fraudulent credit accounts and charge thousands of dollars to new accounts. Some scammers use the stolen identity not for monetary gain, but to avoid immigration or other legal problems.
Scammers find this type of ID theft easy to commit and particularly lucrative, as grieving family members often don't think to look for fraudulent activity. It often takes months before someone notices something amiss, but by then, significant damage has been done.
If the accounts are opened only in the deceased's name, surviving family members most likely will not be liable for the debt, but must spend a good deal of time -- and sometimes money -- untangling records. If the spouse of a deceased victim shared joint accounts, that could pose additional challenges.
You can take several steps after a loved one dies to help reduce the risk of postmortem identity theft:
Don't put too much information in the obituary. Don't include addresses or a mother's maiden name, and only list the birth year (omit the day and month).
Order several -- 12 or more -- official copies of the death certificate. You'll need to send them to many different agencies.
As soon as possible after the death, contact the "big 3" credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) in writing and ask that a "deceased" alert be placed on his or her credit report.
Other groups to notify in writing with a copy of the death certificate:
1. Social Security Administration
2. Creditors and financial institutions
3. State department of motor vehicles (cancel driver's license and transfer any vehicle registration papers)
4. Insurance companies
5. Utility companies
6. Veteran's Administration (if applicable)
7. Immigration services (if applicable)
8. Agencies awarding professional licenses (such as medical licenses or the bar association)
9. Other memberships (such as libraries, fitness clubs, and video rental stores).
Take the deceased off commercial marketing lists by registering him or her with the Direct Marketing Association's Deceased Do Not Contact list. For more information, visit their website
After about a month has passed, get a free credit report to check for suspicious activity.
If you find that someone is using the identity of a deceased family member, contact local law enforcement and fill out a police report -- which you'll need to challenge the accrued debts.
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