Another scam, about which I have written numerous times before, was in the news recently when Linda Longacre of Oklahoma became a victim of identity theft weeks after her death when a check written by an identity thief was deducted from her account.   Not even the dead are immune from identity theft and this particular type of identity theft is now on the rise.  Until new regulations were enacted in 2014 scammers merely checked out the latest obituaries and then went to a free totally available data bank called the Death Master File maintained by the Social Security Administration.  Using the Death Master File, the scammer was readily able to obtain the deceased person’s Social Security number which would then be used along with the information gained from the obituary to establish credit, make purchases or take out loans in the name of the deceased person.  Since 2014 regulations have greatly limited the access to the Death Master File, but identity theft from the dead remains a serious problem because it is still easy for criminals to obtain Social Security numbers of dead people. Income tax identity theft using the Social Security numbers of dead people is also a popular scam with income tax identity thieves because the IRS may not be alerted that the victim of the identity theft has died and is not filing an income tax return. Income tax identity theft from the dead can severely complicate the estate settlement process and threaten the deceased’s assets.

Scammers also target the accounts of the deceased because these accounts are not monitored as often and the identity thief can get away with accessing bank accounts and credit cards for longer periods of time without being discovered.

Limit the amount of personal information contained in any obituary in order to not provide information exploitable by an identity thief.  Also, the executor or personal representative of the estate should contact the major credit reporting bureaus, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax and notify them that the person is deceased and  instruct the credit reporting bureaus to close the accounts and not to issue any further credit.   All creditors, such as credit card companies of the deceased should also be notified of the death and accounts, such as bank accounts should be closed as soon as possible.

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