Not even the dead are immune from identity theft and this particular type of identity theft is now on the rise. Deceased identity theft or ghosting is a major problem. The number of deceased people whose identities were stolen last year reached 2.5 milIion people. 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, scammers were readily able to obtain the Social Security numbers of deceased people which would then be used along with information gained from obituaries to establish credit, make purchases or take out loans in the names of dead identity theft victims. 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 a particularly significant problem because the IRS may not be alerted that the identity theft victim 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.
Following a death, the executor or personal representative of the estate should promptly 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 issue any further credit. Finally, 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. Recent widows and widowers should also be particularly aware of being targeted by scammers through the grandparent scam where criminals contact grandparents by phone posing as their grandchildren, telling the grandparent that they are in trouble and need the grandparent to wire money to them immediately. Criminals often choose their victims of this type of scam from recent obituaries where they can find information about family members that they use to perpetrate this scam. Limit the amount of personal information contained in any obituary in order to not provide information that could be exploited by an identity thief.
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