In our last article we discussed the overall impact identity theft has had on the 20 million individuals this crime has impacted in the United States over the past two years. We also touched on the importance of obtaining your free credit reports by going to www.annualcreditreport.com. Only about one out of three identity theft crimes are credit report related, but it is still very important you utilize this free tool to catch, in its early stages, a potential crime against you.
Today we will discuss a crime committed by identity theft criminals that you shouldn’t have to worry about, but since identity thieves are low-down scoundrels, unfortunately you do. How low will these thieves go? Apparently 6 feet under. Dealing with the loss of a loved one is tough enough without being forced to untangle a complicated web of fraudulent charges.
As an example, Forbes magazine recently reported that the IRS paid out more than $12 million in tax refunds to dead people in 2010 victims of identity theft. Proof that, these days, it’s not enough to protect your own identity. You have to look out for lost loved ones too.
It can take up to six months for banks and government agencies to learn of a death on their own. Since criminals can use that window to steal a deceased person’s identity, here are some steps you can take to close it:
1. Get certified copies of the death certificate. The first thing you will do if placed in charge of an estate is to contact by phone every financial institution the deceased dealt with to notify them. While on the phone, find out the process for closing or transferring ownership of the account. Most if not all financial institutions will require a certified copy to begin the process. As added protection, also send a certified copy to each of the three credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
2. Contact the financial institutions in writing. Once you understand what each agency or institution wants, prepare it in writing with all the supporting documents that is required. Institution requirements differ, but typically you will have to include the name and Social Security number of the deceased, dates of birth and death, home addresses for the past 5 years, and a certified copy of the death certificate. Make sure and keep copies of all correspondence.
3. Keep the obituary vague. When memorializing a loved one in the newspaper, realize the information may be seen by identity thieves. Try to avoid using the full date of birth, middle and maiden names, and home address.
4. Be careful dumping documents. Make sure to shred any paperwork or junk mail belonging to the deceased before throwing it out, just as you would to protect your own identity. To opt out of junk mail offers, go to OptOutPreScreen.com, or call 1-888-5 OPTOUT.
5. Request a credit report. Request from all three reporting agencies a copy of the deceased’s credit report. When you get the report, check it for new or suspicious activity, look for accounts that are still open, and make sure the agency flags the report with a notice of death.
6. Freeze their credit. This should prevent any new credit being granted in the deceased’s name. Policies and fees for doing this vary by state. The Consumers Union website, www.consumersunion.org, has information on credit freeze particulars for each state. Type in “freeze” in the keyword box on top of the home webpage and about the 10th item on the list will be an article entitled “State Security Freeze Laws” that is very helpful.
In Florida there is no fee to place a freeze provided the individual, in this case the deceased, is over 65 years old, or is a victim of identity theft. Otherwise it is $10. Note that this won’t prevent new credit from being granted by institutions the deceased has an existing relationship with, which is why it is so important to notify them and close those accounts.
This is just one of many types of identity theft crimes we will discuss in upcoming articles.
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Skip Soper, a former longtime Naples banker, is a regional distributor for iSekurity, a national identity firm with headquarters in Southwest Florida. iSekurity provides full restoration services to its clients and employs former federal agents to identify the criminals. Contact him at (239) 784-5059 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.