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Protecting Your Deceased Loved Ones From Identity Theft

Credit Card Basics, Credit Cards, Credit Score, Personal Finance
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Protect Your Deceased Loved Ones from Identity Theft

Identity thieves have no qualms about wreaking havoc on their victims’ lives. But when the identity they steal belongs to a deceased person, it’s the victim’s loved ones who suffer.

According to the IRS, the identities of 2.5 million deceased Americans are stolen each year. Thieves take advantage of the fact that it can take months for official notice of a death to reach credit bureaus, the IRS and other interested parties. Plus, the dead won’t be checking their credit reports.

Although surviving family members aren’t responsible for fraudulent charges resulting from identity theft, it’s distressing to learn that someone has used a loved one’s identity to file false tax returns or health insurance claims, or to open credit accounts with no intention of repaying. Even worse, debt collectors might repeatedly call the deceased person’s home looking for someone they believe is alive, creating unimaginable distress for a grieving family.

» MORE: How to Dispute Fraudulent Credit Card Charges

How to prevent fraud

Making sure thieves don’t steal your loved one’s information comes down mostly to what you share and with whom. Some tips:

Keep information to a minimum in the obituary: Fraudsters generally find their deceased victims by searching for identifiable information in obituaries. For this reason, avoid including personal information such as your loved one’s birth date, home address and mother’s maiden name.

Contact their creditors: Ideally, your family member left behind paperwork with details about their creditors. If you need to close any accounts, request that the institution report the reason for the closure as “Account holder is deceased.”

Put a freeze on new credit: A decedent’s creditors and the Social Security Administration typically notify the credit bureaus, the IRS and state motor vehicles departments about the death, but this process can take months. Take it into your own hands to prevent thieves from taking advantage of your family member in the meantime. You can find contact information for each institution in the table below:

Institution

Preferred method of contact

Contact information

What is required?

Creditors

Depends on the creditor

Search customer service information on the creditor's website

Depends on the creditor

Experian

Mail or online

Experian
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
-or-
Upload here

Copy of the death certificate

TransUnion

Mail

TransUnion
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022

Copy of the death certificate

Equifax

Mail

Equifax
P.O. Box 105139
Atlanta, GA 30348

Copy of the death certificate

Internal Revenue Service

Mail

Contact your local IRS office

Copy of the death certificate

Social Security Administration

Phone

Call 1-800-772-1213 or contact your local SSA office

Copy of the death certificate

Department of Motor Vehicles

Mail

Contact your local DMV office

Depends on your state

Request a copy of the deceased’s report: After you’ve notified the credit bureaus and given them a few weeks to update the decedent’s report, request a copy and check for suspicious activity. Do the same a few months later.

The bottom line

Losing someone close to you is hard, and that pain can be exacerbated if that person becomes a posthumous identity theft victim. Proactively protecting your deceased loved one can give you peace of mind.