With everything you have to deal with after a loved one’s death, you’re probably not thinking about the possibility of identity theft. However, every year in the U.S. alone, approximately 2.5 million people become the victims of identity theft after they pass away.
These identity thieves are often referred to as “ghosters.” They know that in the wake of a death, a person’s credit cards, bank accounts, email and online presence may not be monitored because grieving relatives and those managing their estate have more pressing concerns.
Ghosters get a lot of information through sites like Legacy.com where online obituaries are posted. Some families share a lot of information about the deceased and their relatives that can be used for fraudulent means. In fact, family members can also become the targets of identity thieves.
How you can help prevent this fraud
Unfortunately, relatives often don’t find out about the identity theft until they get their deceased loved one’s credit card bills with charges for things they never purchased – and purchases made after their death. While they typically won’t be held responsible for these fraudulent charges, the sooner they find them, the easier it is to shut down the fraud.
The best way to keep your deceased loved one from becoming the victim of identity theft is to notify all necessary parties as soon as possible of their death. This includes the Social Security Administration (SSA), VA and other sources of benefits. All banks, credit card companies and other institutions where they had financial dealings should also be notified. The executor of the estate typically has this responsibility. It’s wise to do this before posting an obituary. It’s important to keep their home secure as well.
If your loved one was in a nursing home or being cared for at home before their death, it’s also possible that their Social Security number, driver’s license and other personal information was taken or accessed while they were still alive. That’s why it’s wise to review your loved one’s financial activity in the weeks or months prior to their death. Unfortunately, the “ghoster” is sometimes another family member or a friend or caregiver for the deceased.
Learning that your loved one has been the victim of identity theft isn’t just painful. It can potentially complicate the estate administration process if you’re dealing with fraudulent debt. That’s one reason why it’s always a good idea to have solid legal guidance as you handle a loved one’s estate.