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Even the Deceased Are at Risk for Identity Theft

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An outdoor funeral with the camera focused on flowers with people in the backgroundWe consider children and the elderly to be among the most vulnerable population, but when it comes to identity theft, the deceased can be even more vulnerable because they have no voice of their own. Your loved ones who have completed life’s journey can be an easy target for thieves.

Window of Opportunity

Ghosting” is a form of identity theft in which someone steals the identity, and sometimes even the role within society, of a specific dead person (the “ghost”) whose death is not widely-known. Thieves have a window of opportunity to make use of the identity of the deceased because it can take six months for financial institutions, credit-reporting bureaus, and Social Security Administration to receive, share and register death records.


Sometimes thieves get information from hospitals or by checking the obituaries. It just takes a name, address, and birth date to purchase the deceased’s social security number on the internet for minimal cost—and it’s not hard to put those pieces together. Criminals sometimes file tax returns under the stolen identities of the deceased and collect funds from the IRS. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that in 2011, identity thieves stole about $5.2 billion dollars in tax refunds.

Another target of information is social media. Facebook can put a person’s account in a memorialized state only if the deceased had the foresight to leave that consent with a living individual.

Family Tree sites, like,, and sometimes offer more information than you might expect, so they have become sources of identity theft.

Protecting Their Identity

Some things you can do to protect your dearly departed’s identity.

In their obituary, list their age but not their birth date, mother’s maiden name, or other personal identifiers. Leave out their address to reduce the risk of a burglary during the funeral.

Circulate the Death Certificate to key agencies. Send it to Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion requesting that they place a “deceased alert” in the credit report. Give copies to financial institutions, insurers, brokerages, credit card and mortgage companies. List the reason for closing an account as “Account Holder is Deceased.”

Read up on Social Security Survivor Benefits and call them at 800-772-1213 to report the death. An active Social Security number offers crooks a golden identity theft opportunity.

Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to cancel their driver’s license. This will prevent fraudulent renewals.

In the Event of Identity Theft

If the identity of a deceased person is stolen, file an Identity Theft Report with the Federal Trade Commission.

Follow Up

Check the credit rating of the deceased after a few weeks to ensure no suspicious activity has taken place. After a few months, check again using a different credit-reporting bureau. You can request one free credit report annually from each credit bureau.

Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of anyone can be turned into an identity thief’s dream come true. Avoiding the theft of your identity is a life-long task and, sadly, must continue after death. Making it a practice to shred any unnecessary or expired documents, records, licenses, and certificates will help protect against theft.

Wiggins Shredding offers residential shredding, one-time purges, and walk-in and drop-off paper shredding services for businesses and residents of Pennsylvania or the tri-state area of New Jersey, Maryland or Delaware. Give us a call at 610-692-TEAR(8327) or complete the form on this page to get started on protecting your identity and that of your loved ones.

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