We've all been warned about protecting ourselves from identity theft, but one group of victims can't take action to defend themselves—the dead. Identity thieves steal the identities of more than 2 million deceased Americans a year, according to fraud prevention firm ID Analytics. Fortunately, there are steps that you can take to discourage identity thieves from targeting a deceased loved one.
Part of the reason the deceased make prime targets for scam artists is that it can take up to six months for credit agencies to be notified about a death. As soon as possible, you should send copies of your loved one's death certificate through certified mail to the three major credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Along with a certified copy of the death certificate, you should include papers certifying that you are the executor or person representing the deceased; the decedent's full name, date of birth, and Social Security number; the decedent's most recent address; and the date of death. You should also request that the credit bureaus put a "deceased -- do not issue credit" alert on the decedent's credit files.
In addition, you should send copies of the death certificate to any banks, insurers, credit card companies, or other financial institutions where the deceased had accounts. You should also cancel the decedent's driver's license by notifying the state motor vehicles department.
One way that identity thieves find victims is by looking through obituaries. When writing your loved one's obituary, try to avoid information that might be useful to identity thieves such as date of birth, mother's maiden name, or the decedent's address. Think about what information someone would need to open a bank account and avoid including that in the obituary.
Once the proper agencies and institutions have been notified, you should continue to monitor the decedent's credit report for a year to make sure there are no problems. A free copy of the three credit agencies' reports is available annually to executors or trustees. Go to: www.annualcreditreport.com
For more information from Bankrate about protecting a deceased relative from identity theft, click here.