The first few weeks following the death of a spouse, parent or other loved one are very difficult. There are so many things to be handled, from writing an obituary and arranging for a funeral to notifying family and financial institutions. During this time, you are focused on just getting through each day.
However, while you are grieving, fraudsters may be looking to profit from your loved one’s death.
For years, thieves have targeted the deceased, robbing their homes during funerals or stealing Social Security numbers and requesting duplicate driver’s licenses to carry out schemes such as applying for loans, opening credit card accounts and filing false tax returns in the deceased’s name.
A newer scheme involves filing a change of address request to reroute the deceased’s mail to the fraudster, providing them with access to account numbers in bills and banking/investment statements and possibly even allowing them to receive the death certificate.
Dealing with the identity theft of a deceased loved can be a challenging process, creating extra stress during an already difficult time. It is better to block fraudsters upfront than to clean up the problems later.
Here are 10 tips to help prevent the theft of your deceased loved one’s identity:
- Restrict the information you publish in the obituary: Identity thieves read obituaries for birthdates, birth cities, maiden names and other information they can use to steal identities and access online accounts. It’s best to leave out this information, especially in online obituaries.
- Have the death certificate sent to the funeral home or a trustworthy family member: This will keep it out of thieves’ hands if your loved one’s mail is fraudulently forwarded.
- Notify the national credit bureaus of your loved one’s death: This should be done as soon as possible to prevent the opening of new credit lines. Send each credit bureau a copy of the death certificate – — use certified mail requesting a return receipt – — and ask to have accounts marked “Deceased” so the account freeze cannot be fraudulently lifted later.
- If your loved one lived alone, make sure their mail is forwarded to the fiduciary settling the estate: The fiduciary – — a personal representative or trustee of your loved one’s revocable living trust – — will need a death certificate and evidence of their authority to act for the mail forward request.
- Monitor your loved one’s mail: If you notice an unexplained absence of mail addressed to your loved one, such as financial statements, check with the post office to confirm whether an unauthorized mail hold or forwarding order was put in place.
- Make sure any new accounts opened in the name of the estate or trust and the transfer of financial assets into these accounts under the fiduciary’s control are done as soon as possible: This minimizes the amount of time assets are exposed to fraud attempts. If someone does steal account-related information, it will have little value once assets are moved as part of the estate settlement process.
- Remove your loved one’s name from any joint accounts as soon as possible: This is another way to limit exposure to thieves.
- Cancel your loved one’s driver’s license or state ID card: This prevents thieves from requesting a duplicate.
- Notify credit card companies, banks, investment/retirement account providers, insurance providers and other companies where your loved one had accounts: Cancel/close accounts that are not joint accounts and ask for them to be marked “Deceased” to keep anyone from reopening them later.
- Notify other organizations: This may include the Veteran’s Administration, Social Security Administration, professional licensing organizations and service providers such as attorneys, accountants, investment advisoers and doctors.
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.
About the author: Mark Harder is a partner in the law firm Warner Norcross + Judd LLP who concentrates his practice in estate planning, estate settlement and trust administration. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.