Ghosting is a term used to describe identity theft of a deceased individual. When a loved one passes, most people assume that the proper organizations will be notified. While this may be true, it is often not done as swiftly as it should be to prevent ghosting. Here are a few steps to take when your loved one passes:
People often use the obituary as a way to celebrate their loved one’s life. Unfortunately, criminals use them to obtain sensitive information used to commit identity theft. When drafting the obituary, it is best to only state the decedent's age, not their full date of birth. You should also refrain from listing his or her mother’s maiden name, their home address or other sensitive information. This is also true of surviving family members.
Request at least twelve copies of the death certificate. The death certificate is the official document that is used to notify organizations of your loved one’s passing.
Send a copy of the death certified by mail, certified-return-receipt, to each credit bureau and ask that they label the account “closed: account holder is deceased” or place a deceased alert on the credit report. This will prevent an identity thief from obtaining new credit using your loved one's identity. The three major credit bureaus are TransUnion, Experian and Equifax.
If you are the executor of the estate, then you may also request a copy of the decedent’s credit report. Reviewing the report will provide you with information regarding creditors to contact as well as any potential fradulent activity. The Identity Theft Resource Center provides sample letters. Simply visit their website and type “deceased” in their search box.
Months later, check these credit reports again. Credit accounts should be closed and the credit report should be labeled deceased. Any inquiries for new credit should be contacted immediately as this could be a warning sign of identity theft.
Financial accounts include banks, credit card, brokerage, loans and mortgage accounts. Each one should receive a copy of the death certificate. Request that every account be labeled “closed/deceased." If it is a joint account, ask that the decedent's name be removed from the account. Each financial institution should send you written verification that the account has been closed or the decedent's name was removed.
Social Security Administration
Contact Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 to report the death. This may be handled by the funeral director, but now is not the time to make assumptions. It is best to double check and contact them yourself.
State Department of Motor Vehicles
Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles in the state where your loved one had a driver’s license. Inquire about their procedures for reporting a death and canceling a driver’s license.
Report the death to the IRS. Someone might tell you that this is not necessary as it will be reported by the filing of the final tax return. However, the final tax return is not filed immediately. It could take months before the final return is prepared and submitted. By contacting the IRS immediately, you reduce the risk of someone filing a fraudulent tax return.
- Insurance Companies: auto, home and life insurance.
- Professional Licenses: contact the licensing organization
- Memberships/Subscriptions: such as fitness centers, utilities, online accounts or the local newspaper.
- VA: if your loved one was a Veteran.
By taking these steps, you will greatly reduce the risk of someone ghosting your loved one.