To most people “ghosting” is the act of breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend by breaking off all contact. Now there is a new ghosting phenomena; stealing the identity of a recently deceased loved one.
Would-be identity thieves scour obituaries to find as much personal information as possible about the recently departed. The more information available about the loved one the better. With this information, thieves can make purchases, open credit cards, create false IDs, and file fraudulent tax returns. This activity can go unchecked until all the proper paper work is filed on the deceased. It can be a nightmare to clear up the mess, all while dealing with the grief associated with losing someone close to you.
What can be done
There are actions available to reduce the risk of this happening.
- Less is more. When creating an obituary, avoid being too specific on information that could be used by ID thieves. Print a birth year, but not the day and month. Omit the maiden name and the address of the deceased.
- Home unattended. During the funeral and visitation, consider having a friend or relative stay at the home of the deceased. Thieves are known to target homes for burglary during the service.
- Notify the bank. Remove the deceased’s name from joint bank and credit card accounts. Immediately close solo credit card accounts. Closely monitor any activity in the accounts.
- Be proactive. Knowing it can take Social Security months to inform all interested parties of the death, proactively contact anyone who may need to know of the death. Report the death to Social Security. File a final tax return. Cancel the driver’s license to avoid duplicates being ordered.
- Work with credit agencies. Contact the major credit agencies and follow their instructions to place a death notice in their records. This should help stop a thief from opening new accounts. Obtain a free credit report from one of the credit agencies and look for suspicious activity. Wait a few months and review a free credit report from a second agency. Continue to monitor activity on the deceased’s credit reports.
Fortunately, as long as your name is not on the accounts, family members are rarely liable for any illegal activity. But cleaning up the mess can be a real hassle.