The New York State Department of State's Division of Consumer Protection is alerting consumers to be aware of a form of identity theft called "ghosting" where identity thieves use the personal information of the deceased.
Criminals look for personal details in obituaries, funeral homes, hospitals, stolen death certificates, and websites online to commit identity fraud. Thieves can use the personal information of the deceased to help guess their Social Security number or purchase it online. They then use this information to open accounts, take out loans, and file tax returns under the stolen identity to collect refunds. Family members of the deceased are ultimately not responsible for charges resulting from this theft as long as their name is not on the account. However, ghosting can cause havoc and frustration.
Follow these tips to protect yourself from this form of identity theft after the death of a family member:
- Avoid listing birth date, maiden name, or other personal identifiers in obituaries as they could be useful to ID thieves.
- Report the death to the Social Security Administration by calling 800-772-1213.
- Order multiple certified copies of the death certificate with and without cause of death.
- Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles to cancel the deceased's driver's license.
- Using certified mail with a "return receipt," send copies of the death certificate to banks, insurers, credit card and mortgage companies, and other places where the deceased held an account. Be sure to remove their name from a joint account.
- Request a copy of a credit report of the deceased to help you know of any active accounts that need to be closed as well as pending collection notices.
- Centralize access to the deceased person's personal information to a single person to avoid identity theft among family members possibly holding a grudge.
- Contact the police in the jurisdiction of the deceased if you have evidence of fraud such as a collection notice, bills, or credit report.