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Publications | September 22, 2020
4 minute read

10 Steps for Avoiding Identity Theft after the Death of a Loved One

The first few weeks following the death of a spouse, parent or other loved one are certain to be very difficult. There are so many things to be handled, from writing an obituary and arranging for a funeral to notifying family, financial institutions and companies where they had accounts. During this time, you are understandably focused on just getting through each day.

However, while you are grieving and dealing with the loss of a loved one, fraudsters may be looking to profit from your loved one’s death.

Crimes Against Deceased Loved Ones For years, thieves have targeted the deceased, robbing their homes during funerals, or stealing social security numbers and requesting duplicate driver’s licenses in order to carry out schemes such as applying for loans, opening credit card accounts and filing false tax returns in the name of the deceased.

A newer fraud scheme involves filing a change of address order to reroute the deceased’s mail to the fraudster – providing them with access to the account numbers contained in the bills and monthly banking/investment statements, and possibly even allowing them to receive the death certificate instead of you.

Dealing with the identity theft of a deceased person can be a difficult process, creating extra work you certainly don’t need during this time. It is better to take steps to block fraudsters up front than to deal with and clean up the problems later.

10 Steps to Prevent Post-Death Identity Theft

  1. An easy way to start is to restrict the information you publish in the obituary.
    • Identity thieves read the obituaries and look for a birth date, city of birth, mother’s maiden name and other information that can be useful to steal an identity or access online accounts. Better to leave out this information, especially in online obituaries.
  2. Have the death certificate sent to the funeral home or to a trustworthy family member’s address to prevent its theft if the deceased’s mail is fraudulently forwarded.
  3. Promptly notify the national credit bureaus of the death to prevent the opening of new credit lines.
    • To complete this, send each credit bureau a copy of the death certificate (use certified mail with a return receipt).
    • Ask to have accounts marked “Deceased” so that the account freeze cannot be fraudulently lifted later.
  4. If the deceased lived alone, the fiduciary settling the estate (personal representative or the trustee of the deceased’s revocable living trust) should arrange as soon as possible to have the mail forwarded to the fiduciary. Note that the fiduciary will need a death certificate and evidence of their authority to act in order to do so.
  5. If you notice an unexplained absence of mail addressed to the deceased or do not see mail that should be arriving, such as statements for financial accounts, check the post office to confirm whether an unauthorized mail hold or forwarding order was put in place.
  6. Estate settlement often requires opening new accounts in the name of the estate or trust, and moving financial assets to the new accounts and under the control of the fiduciary. Doing this promptly minimizes the amount of time assets are exposed to fraud attempts. If someone does steal information related to the accounts, it will have little value once assets have been moved as part of the settlement process.
  7. Remove the deceased’s name from any joint accounts as soon as possible.
  8. Cancel the deceased’s driver’s license or state ID card so thieves cannot request a duplicate.
  9. Notify credit card companies, banks, investment/retirement account providers, insurance providers and other companies where the deceased had accounts.
    • Cancel/close accounts that are not joint accounts.
    • Ask them to mark closed accounts as “Deceased” to keep anyone from reopening them later.
  10. Notify other organizations as needed, such as: Veteran’s Administration, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (if deceased was not a citizen), Social Security Administration (if your funeral home did not do this), professional licensing organizations and professional service providers such as attorneys, accountants, investment advisors and doctors.

Knowledge Helps Prevent Post-Death Fraud

While no one wants to think about the death of a loved one, a little knowledge and some quick action can go a long way toward preventing fraud attempts during your time of grief. Your Warner attorney can work with you to wrap up the estate’s final affairs safely.