Mar 17, 2013

Even your deceased loved one's identity can be stolen: here's how to prevent it from happening

Identity theft is not just for the living. In fact, it is often easier for thieves to get their hands on information about a deceased person than a living one. Once they do, thieves can use the information to fraudulently get loans and credit. According to a March 2013 article in AARP, thieves tap information such as obituaries, the Social Security Death Index, and Florida probate records. (In Florida, a will becomes public record once it is filed; protecting family privacy is one reason some Florida residents prefer to use a living trust, rather than a will, as their primary estate planning vehicle.)

Sadly, identity theft is not the purview of professional criminals only. An angry and dishonest relative can use "inside" information to steal the decedent's identity and commit fraud.

While it's unlikely that the family or the estate of a deceased person can be held liable for fraudulent debts, the family of a decedent whose identity has been stolen may start getting calls from collection agencies, and will have to devote time and effort to straighten things out. This is the last thing a grieving family needs.

It is important to realize that credit reporting agencies and other financial institutions are not automatically notified when someone dies. Thus, there is a window of time in which thieves can operate with near impunity. The sooner you notify the appropriate parties about your loved one's passing, the more protection you have.

Our Florida probate attorneys advise our clients about these issues. Here are additional valuable tips from the excellent Identity Theft Resource Center to prevent scammers from getting their hands on information about your deceased loved one:

Don't include too many details in the obituary.  
Of course you want to honor the life of your loved one. But do not include details like mother's maiden name or exact date of birth.

Once death certificates are available, notify the appropriate parties.
The personal representative or the trustee of the estate will have the authority to communicate and make requests of the appropriate parties. Entities to notify include:

Credit Bureaus:
Notify by certified mail the major credit bureaus of the death, and include the death certificate. Request that the file be flagged, credit not be issued, and ask to be notified of any requests for credit. The three major credit reporting bureaus are:

PO Box 105069
Atlanta, GA 30348

PO Box 9530
Allen, TX 75013

PO Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834

The Identity Theft Resource Center has a model letter which you can use to send to the credit bureaus. 

Other institutions:
Also contact other financial institutions with which the deceased had a relationship, requesting that they make a notation that the account holder has passed away. Do this if the account was owned solely by the decedent or held jointly with someone else. Contact:

Pension issuer
Credit card companies
Insurance company
Brokerage house
Social Security Administrator
Credit unions
Veterans administration

Some experts also suggest that you contact the Division of Motor Vehicles to prevent the agency from issuing a duplicate license. 

Check out the Identity Theft Resource Center's exhaustive guidelines on decedent identity theft.  

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