Six steps to preventing identity theft of the deceased

Identity thieves prefer the dead to the living

When someone dies there's not much else that can happen to them, right? Actually there is. It usually falls to the harried and grieving family members to make sure it doesn't.

The threat is identity theft, just as real for a deceased person as it is for the living.

While identity thieves are always on the lookout for ways to assume someone's identity, stealing a dead person's identity is like finding a pot of gold. A living person will ultimately discover their identity has been compromised. No so with the departed.

Julie Myhre, Editor at, says there are six steps the next of kin should carry out to protect their loved one's identity in death.

1. Notify the Social Security Administration

If the deceased is drawing benefits, the Social Security Administration requires you to notify it so it can stop the payments. But even if they are not drawing benefits, it is important to contact the agency.

“When you notify them you want to provide the deceased's Social Security number, date of birth, date of death and their last address,” Myhre said.

The Social Security Administration will close the file and note the person is deceased. That important step prevents their Social Security number from being used in connection with their name.

2. Contact all three credit bureaus

The credit agencies – Experian, Equifax and Trans Union, all have open files on the deceased. These files need to be closed.

“This one is a little more difficult because they are separate entities,” Myhre said. “It's also best if you call each of the bureaus before you mail them any information because they each have different requirements.”

The credit agencies will want the deceased's Social Security number, date of birth, date of death and their last address. In connection with the canceling of a Social Security number, the closing of the credit files provides a strong barrier against identity theft. However, additional steps are needed.

3. Cancel drivers license

Myhre says it is important that you cancel a deceased loved one's drivers license because that, too, becomes a tool for an identity thief.

“The steps vary from state to state but you can call or visit the website of the division of motor vehicles in the state where the deceased lived,” Myhre said.

Also, be sure to destroy all physical copies of the deceased's drivers license.

4. Close all bank accounts

In conjunction with the settlement of the estate, go to each individual bank where the deceased had a loan or account and let them know that the person is deceased and provide them with a copy of the death certificate.

“If an identity thief gets any bit of information about a deceased person they will try to find ways to exploit it for personal gain,” Myhre said. “They would be very interested in getting access to a bank account.”

5. Notify insurance companies

If the deceased had a life insurance policy the executor of the estate will notify the insurance company and provide the proper paperwork for the distribution of funds to the beneficiary. But car and home insurance companies – along with any annuity providers – should be notified of the death as well.

6. Cancel memberships

Over a lifetime people join countless clubs and organizations. When a member dies, that information needs to be removed from the books.

“Whether it's the grocery store, health club, library, alumni association, professional and civic organizations, they all need to be notified of the person's death so they can cancel the membership.”

These memberships hardly ever contain Social Security numbers but they often contain informational nuggets an identity thief would find useful. And personal information about a deceased individual is a lot more valuable than about someone still living.

“There's not a ton of research on identity theft of deceased persons but Ivy Analytics did a study in april 2012 and found at least 800,000 identities of deceased Americans have been targeted by identity thieves on applications for credit or for cellphone services,” Myhre said.

One final tip: before completing any of these steps get at least 12 official copies of the death certificate from the local medical examiner's office. There will be a small charge but most official agencies will not accept a photocopy but rather want an official copy.

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