Obituaries and Identity Theft
For most people, obituaries are a way to pay a tribute to a loved one and to advertise the time and place of a memorial service. Great time and care is taken to write the obituary in a way that honors the deceased, and a picture is lovingly selected to go along with it.
Unfortunately, not even death keeps predators away. The recently deceased are a target for identity theft, and one way in which people gather information on their victims is to search the obituary page for leads. The damages caused by this kind of crime can be catastrophic—especially for the grieving family. For example, if the spouse or partner of the deceased is still living, he or she may be held financially liable for the theft of monies or credit. It can also be a huge hassle to go through the police and credit agencies to prove that a theft occurred.
How to Prevent Identity Theft
In the days following the funeral of a loved one, you will most likely wade through quite a bit of paperwork and spend time going over the accounts and affairs of the deceased. Ideally, all identity theft preventative steps would be taken prior to the obituary being published, since criminals tend to act very quickly. If possible, designate one family member to ensure that the following steps are taken:
- Close all bank accounts and credit cards. By closing off access to financial accounts, most identity thefts are stopped before they begin.
- Contact Social Security to de-activate the deceased’s SSN.
- Contact one of the credit reporting agencies (Experian, Trans Union, or Equifax) to set up an alert system and to notify them of death. This will allow you to be notified if anyone tries to open a new account using the deceased’s SSN.
- Limit the kind of information listed on the obituary. It is okay to outline the basics of the deceased’s life, but don’t get too detailed about places of occupation or personal history. These facts can be used by an identity thief for verification reasons.
Regular vigilance in the months following death can also help keep your loved ones safe. Take care of financial issues sooner rather than later, and remove the deceased’s names from any titles or accounts that might be co-signed with another person. You should also remove the deceased’s name from any mailing lists or magazine subscriptions so that the amount of junk mail with their name on it is reduced.
No one should have to face funeral planning and identity theft prevention at the same time, but today’s world makes it a necessity. A few extra steps before the obituary is printed can go a long way in making sure your loved ones aren’t victimized in this way.