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Ghosting: The abuse of a deceased individual’s identity

On Behalf of | Jun 17, 2016 | Estate Administration & Probate |

Identity theft schemes constantly evolve and target everyone from infants to those who have recently passed away. Ghosting, stealing the identity of a deceased victim, claims as many as 2.5 million identities a year.

Criminals can use identity information to apply for credit or file for a tax refund. Collection letters or IRS notices are worrying, but it is important to note that family members are not responsible for accrued charges that result from identity theft.

Limit personal identifying information

Criminals scour obituaries to obtain information they can use, such as:

  • Maiden name
  • Date of birth
  • Mother’s maiden name
  • Hometown
  • Nearest relatives

With this information thieves may be able to purchase the Social Security number of the recently deceased individual. For this reason, it is often best to limit the information published in an obituary.

Reporting and monitoring

The University of Texas at Austin Center for Identity offers some other important advice.

First, request a death certificate as soon as it is available.

Next, send copies to banks, insurance companies and investment firms asking they flag accounts “Closed – Account holder is deceased.” Notify Social Security of the death and cancel the deceased’s driver’s license at the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles.

Lastly, after several months pull your loved one’s credit report to make sure you can quickly address any suspicious activity or errors.

Document any occurrence of identity theft and immediately report it to local police. This gives law enforcement the best chance to catch the perpetrators and stop them. While family members will rarely be liable as long as their names are not on the accounts, cleaning up the mess takes time and is an added hassle.