Ghosting: The Most Sinister Form of Identity Theft

Time to Let Her Go | © User: Fish Gravy / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-2.0
© User: Fish Gravy / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-2.0

Approximately 2.5 million identities are stolen each year from victims who are deceased. The practice of stealing identities from deceased persons is commonly referred to as “ghosting” and represents a significant threat to the surviving family members. This issue strikes particularly close to home at the moment; I have an elderly grandmother who, at 91 years young, has been struggling with chronic health issues for some time. When a loved one passes away it can be difficult to think about identity safety, but a few simple steps can prevent huge headaches down the road. It is my hope that others may benefit from this research.

The following guidelines are suggested for deaths at any age:

  1. Obtain at least 12 copies of the official death certificate as soon as it becomes available. It may be possible to photocopy the original, but remember that death records are public and some organizations may request additional proof.
  2. If there is a surviving spouse or another sort of joint account holder, make sure to immediately notify credit card companies, banks, stock brokers, loan/lien holders and mortgage companies of the death.
  3. The executor/surviving spouse will need to address any outstanding debts by either transferring or closing accounts; if accounts are closed, make sure they are listed as: “Closed. Account holder is deceased.”
  4. Contact all relevant financial institutions that may need to be informed of the death and make sure to follow the correct procedures. Generally, it is best to submit all pertinent information in the first letter to the agency—sent via certified mail with return receipt requested, as this will speed up processing:
    • Name and Social Security number of deceased
    • Last known address
    • Last five years of addresses
    • Date of birth
    • Date of death
  5. Request copies of the decedent’s credit reports, which will show any remaining active accounts that still need to be closed and request an alert be placed on the name to notify potential creditors to not issue any new credit.

A death in the family can be hard enough; don’t let a stolen identity make it worse.

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