Preventing identity theft after a person dies

There are ways to protect the identities of your departed loved ones.

May 27, 2013 - Author: Wanda J. Roberts,

It’s sad and devastating to a family when someone passes away.  It’s beyond frustrating when family members and friends have to deal with repairing damage done by an identity thief who has stolen their loved one's financial information to drain assets from the deceased’s estate.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette issued a consumer alert that gives an example of how identity theft can happen. In Louisiana, three people were recently arrested for stealing the identities of more than 100 deceased individuals. One of the alleged perpetrators worked in a hospital emergency room and sent text messages containing the personal identifying information of dying patients to her adult son. 

The son and his wife would then apply for credit cards using the deceased's personal information. The alleged perpetrators would also read patients’ obituaries and use the hospital's database to gain access to personal information. Recently deceased people were targeted because their financial institutions and other important entities do not immediately received notification upon their passing.

Michigan State University Extension suggests using the following tips compiled by the Identify Theft Resource Center and AARP to help prevent the theft of a deceased individual's information.  These steps may not be the same for each financial institution or government agency so it’s important to accurately follow the procedures they outline for you. 

  1. Limit the amount of information placed in obituaries.    
  2. Obtain at least 12 copies of the official death certificate when it becomes available.   
  3. Immediately notify all credit card companies, banks, insurance companies, or other financial institutions with whom the deceased held accounts. When closing accounts be sure the financial institution indicates "Closed:  Account Holder is Deceased."
  4. Immediately contact each of the three major credit reporting agencies in writing, certified mail, return receipt requested, to place a "deceased" alert on the individual's credit report. 
  5. Immediately notify the Social Security Administration of the individual's death.  To report a death to the Social Security Administration, call 1-800-772-1213.  
  6. Notify the Michigan Secretary of State of the individual's death.  Take a copy of the death certificate and the deceased’s driver's license to your local Secretary of State's office.   
  7. If you have legal permission to do so, Monitor the deceased individual's credit reports regularly to make sure no fraudulent activity appears.  If any fraudulent activity appears, notify creditors immediately, first by phone, then follow up in writing by certified mail, return receipt requested.   

For more information you may call the Federal Trade Commission(FTC) at 1-877-ID-Theft, or visit the FTC's identity theft website. You can also contact the Michigan Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division:

Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909

Fax: 517-241-3771
Toll free: 877-765-8388

Tags: caregiving, family, homeownership, mi money health, money management, msu extension

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