It’s hard for most people to fathom, but some people think nothing of profiting off someone’s death by stealing their identity. In fact, some 2.5 million people who die in the U.S. become identity theft victims annually.
The problem is so widespread that there’s even a name for it: ghosting. Those engaged in this crime — ghosters — are adept at obtaining information on the deceased person to open credit cards in their name, get their government benefits, drain bank accounts and much more.
Limit the information in the obituary
Unfortunately, grieving loved ones unwittingly help ghosters. They often include enough information about the deceased person in their obituary to make ghosters’ work easy. Online obituaries on places like Legacy.com can provide a treasure trove of information.
You can prevent considerable harm by not posting an obituary until you’ve secured their accounts and are ready to be on the alert for fraud. When you post it, be careful not to include information like their date of birth, address and other identifying information.
Be careful how much family information is included in an obituary. Relatives are often victims of scams by people posing as life insurance representatives and more. Avoid providing complete names of surviving family members and leave out information like where they live, work or go to school.
Other preventative measures to take
Ghosters benefit from the fact that family members are often in shock, especially after an untimely death. They may be slow to secure accounts and notify the necessary entities that can help them prevent fraud and theft. That’s why as soon as possible, you should take at least the following steps:
- Provide a copy of the death certificate to all three credit bureaus so they can note the death on the credit report.
- Notify the Department of Motor Vehicles if the person had a driver’s license or state-issued ID.
- Notify the Social Security Administration, Veterans Administration and any other government agency they were getting benefits from.
- Put in a change of address with the local post office – particularly if the deceased person lived alone.
The executor of the estate should typically be the one to handle these things. They’re responsible for protecting the estate’s assets, and any theft will cost the estate. It’s wise to have legal guidance as you do this.