Identity theft is a constant problem—one that doesn't even end after death. Approximately 2.5 million American identities are actually stolen from the deceased every year. If you've recently lost a loved one, learn what you need to do to protect his or her identity from being stolen and how your funeral director can help.
1.) Avoid putting too much revealing information into the obituary.
While obituaries are important in order to memorialize your loved one and help notify associates and friends who might otherwise not get the word until after the funeral is over, too much information can make an identity thief's job easier. Avoid giving out certain specifics, like the deceased's exact date of birth, address, and mother's maiden name. Ask your funeral director if he or she has a template that you can use as a guide for the obituary that's designed to help obscure identifying details.
2.) Make sure that notifications of the death go out quickly.
The funeral director generally notifies Social Security of someone's death, so make sure that he or she has your loved one's correct Social Security number as soon as possible. Once that record has processed, it will be harder for an identity thief to take over the deceased's ID. If the deceased was a veteran, the funeral director can also take care of notifying the VA when he or she checks for any death benefits.
In the meantime, ask the funeral director for copies of the death certificate and send out notifications to the following places, as necessary:
- banks and credit unions he or she used
- his or her auto and life insurance company
- any credit card companies he or she used
- his or her health and dental insurer
- the pharmacy that he or she used
- the Department of Motor Vehicles (even if he or she only had a state ID)
Some funeral homes keep a list of the major agencies, companies, and other organizations in their area that they routinely notify in the event of deaths. Ask the funeral director if he or she has a checklist or an address list that you can use.
4.) Notify all three major credit reporting agencies.
Notifying companies that have existing accounts for the deceased is only part of the battle against identity theft. You need to request a credit freeze by all three of the major credit reporting agencies, which are Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. While they'll eventually get the notice from Social Security, it can take months for that to happen—and a thief can run up quite a debt in your loved one's name in the meantime by opening new accounts.
5.) Beware of what you share.
While it's hard to think about, the reality is that a lot of identity theft is done by family members or friends, simply because the opportunity is there. Someone with financial problems or a drug problem may be tempted to steal a deceased relative's credit out of desperation or even convince themselves that it won't really hurt anybody.
If at all possible, limit who you allow to assist you with all of the paperwork that needs to be done, including notices. If you aren't able to handle the notifications yourself, ask for help from only one or two people that you trust.
For more advice on how to prevent your loved one's identity from being stolen, talk to your funeral director today. If you're in doubt about whether or not taking a specific step is safe or necessary, he or she can help you through the process.