Combating identity theft of the deceased
When you lose a loved one, the last thing on your mind is the thought of someone profiting from the event. Unfortunately, identity theft after death is a growing problem. According to the IRS, criminals steal the identities of many deceased Americans every year, using them to apply for loans or fraudulently open credit card accounts. To keep your loved one’s identity safe after death, consider these important steps.
Keep the details private
Identity thieves scan death notices and obituaries to obtain key personal information about the deceased. Consider omitting details from your loved one’s obituary such as the date of birth, home address and mother’s maiden name. In addition, as you begin to sort out your loved one’s affairs, make sure to shred or destroy documents that include identifying details such as a Social Security number.
Review credit reports
One of the first steps you can take to help prevent identity theft is to request a copy of your loved one’s credit report. To do so, you may need to prove that you are the surviving spouse or executor of the estate. Contact each of the three credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion—to find out its procedures for issuing credit reports. You can use the reports to identify open accounts that need to be closed and also check for suspicious activity.
Alert appropriate institutions
Notify financial institutions where your loved one had accounts and find out how to close them. To do so, you likely need to provide a death certificate, which you can request from the funeral home. You may want to order multiple copies—fifteen or even more—to cover immediate and future needs. (You can also order death certificates later through your state’s office of vital records.) When mailing death certificates, make sure you send them via certified mail with return receipts.
Copies of the death certificate should be sent to the following institutions as quickly as possible:
- Social Security Administration
- Each of the three major credit bureaus
- Any credit card companies your loved one used
- Banks, brokerages and insurers
- Mortgage companies and other lien holders
Additionally, it’s a good idea to notify the veteran’s administration, collection agencies and immigration services, if applicable.
When closing an account, request that the agency or organization put the following note in the record: “Closed. Account holder is deceased.” For joint accounts, have the institution remove the name of your loved one.
A few months after taking the above steps, consider requesting an additional credit report to make sure there is no suspicious activity. It’s a good idea to follow up with your loved one’s banks, credit card companies, insurers and other financial service providers to confirm they’ve closed any associated accounts. Also, keep track of any mail addressed to the deceased.
If you suspect that your loved one’s identity has been stolen, notify the police and call the fraud unit at the institution where you suspect the theft occurred. Generally speaking, the victim’s estate is not responsible for any fraudulent transactions, but clearing your loved one’s name may vary by state and the institution in which the fraud occurred.
If you need to close a loved one’s account you can call Bank of America’s Estate Unit at 888.689.4466 (Mon–Fri 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET, Sat 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET) or visit a local financial center. We’re here to assist you during this emotionally challenging time.