Family members are not generally at risk from the theft of a dead loved one’s identity. But nobody wants to have to deal with the hassle that can happen when a bad guy uses the identity of a deceased to file a fake tax return or open a credit account. Here’s what you need to know about the issue, and how to protect your family from the threat.

AARP reports that each year millions of identities from deceased persons are hijacked. And because it takes some months to detect the crime, handling the phone calls and paperwork to resolve the problem compounds the grief families have to endure.

Why would anybody want to steal a dead person’s identity?

Thieves target the names and social security numbers of the recently deceased to open credit card accounts, apply for loans, get cell phones, or even to hide from law enforcement.

“It’s called ‘ghosting,’” writes AARP, “and because it can take six months for financial institutions, credit reporting bureaus and the Social Security Administration to receive, share or register death records, the crooks have ample time to rack up charges. Plus, of course, the dead don’t monitor their credit — and often, neither do their grieving survivors.”

How can you keep this from happening to your family?

Experts recommend three important steps to protect your family from the theft of a deceased loved one’s identity:

  1. Report the death to the Social Security Administration by calling 1-800-772-1213 and make sure you receive written confirmation of their action.
  2. Notify the credit reporting agencies, driver’s license bureau and any lending institutions the deceased may have used. Send copies of the death certificate to each of the credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion and ask them to place a “deceased alert” on the credit report. Then, monitor the deceased’s credit report for additional or suspicious activity. (See our earlier post about how to monitor credit reports for free.)
  3. Be careful with the details provided in the obituary. AARP recommends including the age, but not the mother’s maiden name or the home address.
    Thieves don’t care if they hurt your feelings. So, don’t expect them to respect your time to grieve over the death of a loved one. Take practical steps early to avoid greater heartbreak later should the bad guys target the identity of the deceased.

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