Idenfity Theft and Death

05/22/2012

We all know that identity theft is a serious issue.  If someone stills our identity while we are alive, it can cost money, create headaches, waste time and destroy our credit rating.  What you might not know is that stealing the idendtity of a deceased person is a serious issue as well. 

A recent study has shown that not only can identity theft occur after death, in many cases it makes it easier for criminals to strike. The study revealed that the identities of 2.5 million dead Americans are stolen each year and used to do things such as open lines of credit and establish cell phone service.

There are several steps that surviving family members can take to help to prevent identity theft of a deceased person.

First, planning should begin prior to death.  If a loved one enters a nursing home or similar type of facility prior to death, then it is important to secure all financial records, checkbooks, credit cards and like items.  It is also important to limit those who have access to this secured information. Doing this while the person is alive will go a long way to preventing misappropriation of financial information during life as well as after death.

After death, state agencies such as taxing authorities and health care agencies should be promptly notified of the death and provided with a copy of the death certificate. In addition, all credit card accounts should be promptly closed and the actual cards physically destroyed.

If the deceased's estate is being probated, then the personal representative should review all claims filed against the estate and confirm that each and every expense was in fact incurred by the decedent. It is not unheard of where prior to death, the decedent's credit card was stolen and charges were made during and even after death.  If a credit card gets stolen, it is then just a matter of providing the credit card company with copies of the death certificate and police report of the theft to get the claim filed against the estate dismissed.

With so many financial transactions occurring online these days, it is important to keep a list of e-mail and social media accounts and their login information. This will give surviving family members what they need to cancel such accounts after death, which will in turn prevent personal and financial information from being stolen and exploited by identity thieves.