Identity Thieves Are Preying on Our Dead Relatives Too

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By Nicholas Pell

It's not enough to have to worry about getting your own identity stolen -- you have to worry about the identity of your kids, too. Perhaps most shocking: You have make sure that identity thieves aren't stealing your dead relatives' critical information. In the United States, there were 2.5 million cases of fraudulently used information from the deceased every year. Here's how you detect and combat it.

Maria Cordeiro with the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies says that people should give limited information out when posting obituaries. "Identity thieves read obituaries looking for their next victim," she explains. "Don't include a complete address, date of birth, survivor names or professional history."

She says the living should notify the Social Security Administration, which keeps a "death master file" of Social Security Numbers to deactivate. "Funeral directors are supposed to do this, but doing it yourself can accelerate the process," Cordeiro said.

Finally, Cordeiro points out the importance of shutting down social media websites after your loved ones pass away. While you might want to leave this up as a tribute, it can be a potential treasure trove to identity thieves looking for identifying information about your loved ones.

How Do You Know Your Loved Ones Are Affected?

Learning about the problem is "similar to how you know a living person has been affected," says Robert Siciliano, a security expert with "You start getting invoices or bills for products and services that were not procured."

The problem is that when these bills get racked up, there's no one to pay them and then you start getting calls from collection companies. "The problem isn't so much financial -- it's emotional," says Cordeiro.

"A lot of times debt collectors will start harassing you," says Siciliano. "They don't believe you that the person is deceased. Now you have to prove it."

How Do You End the Calls?

It's not easy to clear your late loved one's name and end the calls. "No two organizations are going to deal with it the same way," Siciliano says, adding that once you get all the documentation together, it's just a matter of sending it out to each respective organization that needs it. "It's a bit like Whac-a-Mole," he says.

If possible, get a credit report before the person passes away or as soon to it as possible. Cordeiro points out that this gives you a snapshot of what the person's credit report looked like at or around the tie of death. After that, you can order another credit report six months later or simply log in to a credit monitoring service. After six months, it's almost certain that your relative's name and Social Security Number have been added to the death master file.
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