Deceased Identity Theft: How to Protect Your Loved Ones
Protecting your loved one even after they’re gone
Navigating the end-of-life process can be challenging enough without having to worry about identity theft and bad actors trying to take advantage of your loss. Unfortunately, identity theft after death occurs with some regularity and can lead to many financial and emotional complications that you’ll then have to sort out on top of making funeral arrangements and spending time with friends and family. That’s why it can be helpful to understand deceased identity theft and know what steps to take to reduce the likelihood of it happening to a friend or family member.
When you register for an account with Lantern, you’ll find many resources for navigating the end-of-life journey and for protecting your family after a person has died. That includes identity theft preventative measures. Here are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind about deceased identity theft, so you can reduce the possibility of it happening to your friends and family after they pass on.
What Is Deceased Identity Theft?
Much like identity theft that affects people who are still alive, deceased identity theft is a form of information stealing, most often for personal financial gain. It can often go unchecked when it affects the deceased because they are not checking into their accounts or making payments anymore.
That is one reason why it’s important to set up accounts correctly and provide essential information for your loved ones during the end of life journey, so that they can install protections and prevention methods to avoid deceased identity theft.
Before a Person Passes
There are many steps you will want to take after a person passes away to ensure that their identity is protected, but it doesn’t begin there. The more access you have to essential information before a person dies, the easier it will be to access their finances and important accounts, close or lock any social media accounts, and reduce the amount of personal information floating around.
If you are in a position to do so, it’s a good idea to speak with your friend or family member as they begin their end-of-life journey and ask for account access, which will make it easier to protect their accounts and their family after they pass.
How to Protect Your Loved Ones
The good news is that there are several moves you can make to protect your family and the deceased person’s accounts. Here are just a few.
Avoid Using Personal Information in Loss Notices
Obituaries and memory notices are used to inform friends and family about a loss, and they are a way to honor and bid farewell to the deceased before their community. That said, it’s important to be careful about the type of information you put into your obituary.
Passwords and security questions are often about personal and private information, like the first street a person lived on or their mother’s maiden name. Thieves often take information from obituaries to steal financial or personal data, so it’s best to leave the specific personal facts out of obituaries.
Report the Death
It’s important to report the death of a friend or family member to the appropriate agencies as soon as possible. The agencies that you report the death to can also help to notify you and the proper authorities if they notice signs of identity or unusual activity on accounts of people who are deceased. The agencies that you’ll want to report with vary, but they will include Social Security, the IRS, and the VA.
Protect Essential Mail & Secure All Documents
There are many important documents that will be moved around during the first days after a person passes away, like the death certificate, will, and anything that might have a social security number on it. It’s a good idea to use a certified mail service when sharing private documents and always ask for a return receipt to ensure that everything is being tracked and recorded properly.
You also want to keep those essential documents as secure as possible—and in the hands of as few people as possible. Unfortunately, there are a significant number of instances where someone close to the family will take advantage of their position to use personal documents, so always lock up the essentials.
Take Care of Big Accounts
It’s very important to close or notify the big accounts after death to ensure that the agencies know that there should be no more activity on those accounts. These are some of the accounts that have the most personal information and are often at high risk of being used in a theft.
You’ll want to notify all of the important financial institutions that the person has passed away. You can begin closing accounts and protecting essential information from potential thieves, and they will be able to notify you if there are any unusual activities on an account. Important agencies to contact include the bank, health insurance, the Department of Motor Vehicles, any student loan organizations, and any credit card companies.
You’ll also want to cancel smaller accounts, like utilities, phone contracts, any entertainment or streaming programs, and anything else you think might have private information.
Comb Social Media
In the modern day of social media, there’s a lot of personal information available online that can be used to access private accounts. If you can, it’s a good idea to speak with your friend or family member before their passing to get access to information like social media and email accounts so you can shut them down and reduce the risk of identity thieves accessing the information after death.
Not only is it important to notify the credit agencies after a person dies, but you’ll want to check back on the deceased person’s credit score regularly, especially in the first few months after their death. The credit agency should alert you if there are signs of unusual activity on an account that is supposed to be closed, but you can also track anything out of the ordinary, as well.
Save All Communication
It’s important to save all essential documents and information after a person has passed. Financial records, passwords, death certificates, and the will should be saved and dated, if they aren’t electronically saved, so that you can reference them if there is any sign of foul play on the accounts of the deceased.
What To Do If You Notice Something Suspicious
Even if you take all the right steps, thieves can still find ways to steal essential information after a person has passed. Here are a few steps that you’ll want to take if you notice unusual activity on an account.
File With the Police
If you notice signs of activity on an account that should be closed or should no longer have activity, then the first thing you’ll want to do is file a report with the police. While they may not be able to trace the source of the theft, it’s important to have a paper trail indicating that a theft occurred so that you can begin taking the essential steps needed in order to prevent any future problems from taking place.
Notify the Company or Agency
You may become aware of a theft because a collections agency has been sent to collect on debts neither you nor the deceased accrued. That’s also why you’ll want to continue to monitor the information and accounts, so you can immediately make a move if you notice that something is wrong. You’ll want to notify the company immediately after discovery to prevent future theft and to provide any assistance possible to catch the person responsible.
Protecting the accounts of a friend or family member who has passed is essential to preventing theft. There are many steps you can take before, during, and after the first few days to reduce the possibility of having personal information stolen and causing financial loss or identity theft.
Before a person passes, you’ll want to request any essential information that can help you navigate their personal accounts and finances. After death, it’s important to notify any essential agencies, begin shutting down and closing accounts, and checking into financials. You’ll also want to monitor their credit score for signs of activity that might indicate bad actors.
You’re not alone. The team at Lantern is here to help you every step of the way, from planning a funeral checklist to shutting down entertainment and social media accounts to creating an end-of-life guide. You have enough to worry about after a loss, which is why we offer the tools and essential resources for navigating memorial services, the logistics of loss, and your emotional journey, and the emotional journeys of your friends and family members. Register for an account to begin exploring your resources and protect your family member today.