One should act quickly to thwart identity thieves

I’ve written about medical identity theft, tax identity theft, and plain old identity theft. This column will deal with a form of identity theft called “ghosting.” It involves stealing the identity of a deceased individual.

I read one report about a fellow who stole a murdered boy’s identity and used it for 15 years to escape from the consequences of bad acts. Many cases of ghosting, however, are financially motivated.

The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) says that identity thieves watch obituaries, steal death certificates, or even get the information from websites that offer the Social Security Death index. The thief may be a family member taking advantage of the situation.

In 2012, ID Analytics estimated that the identities of nearly 2.5 million Americans are stolen annually. Some of the deceased are targeted, while in other cases the crooks inadvertently use the Social Security Number of a deceased person.

Earlier this year, two Memphis women pleaded guilty to using the information of deceased persons to file fraudulent tax returns. The authorities could prove they stole $462,000, but suspect the amount could be as high as $2.5 million.

Apprisen, a financial counseling firm, recommends limiting the information you include in an obituary. Don’t use birthdates, home addresses or mother’s maiden names.

The ITRC offers the following advice for protecting the identity of a deceased person:

Obtain at least 12 copies of the certified death certificate. In some cases, you’ll be able to use a photocopy, but some businesses will request an original. Since many death records are public, a death certificate alone may not suffice.

Immediately notify credit card companies, banks, stock brokers, loan/lien holders, and mortgage companies of the death. The executor or surviving spouse will need to discuss all outstanding debts. If you close the account, ask them to list it as: “Closed. Account holder is deceased.” If there is a surviving spouse or other joint account holders, make sure to notify the company the account needs to be listed in that surviving person’s name alone. They may require a copy of the death certificate to do this, as well as permission from the survivor.

Immediately contact the credit reporting agencies. Request that the report be flagged with the following alert: “Deceased. Do not issue credit. If an application is made for credit, notify the following person(s) immediately: (list the next surviving relative, executor/trustee of the estate and/or local law enforcement agency – noting the relationship).”

Request a copy of the decedent’s credit report. The report will let you know of any active credit cards that still need to be closed or any pending collection notices. Be sure to ask for all contact information on accounts currently open in the name of the deceased. You will need to follow through with those entities.

Notify other groups or agencies as appropriate, including the Social Security Administration, DMV, insurance companies, and membership programs such as fitness centers.

Follow up with notices in writing and send all mail as certified, return receipt requested. Keep copies of all correspondence, noting the date sent and any response(s) you receive.

Even though you’re still grieving, you need to act quickly to thwart identity thieves.

Randy Hutchinson is president and chief executive officer of the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South.

Article source: http://www.jacksonsun.com/story/money/business/columnists/2014/10/02/one-act-quickly-thwart-identity-thieves/16614939/

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