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ITRC Fact Sheet 117
Identity Theft and the Deceased:  Prevention and Victim Tips

This guide will address several areas:

Identity thieves obtain information about deceased individuals in various ways.  They may watch the obituaries, steal death certificates, or even get the information from websites that offer the Social Security Death Index.  These web sites are supposed to be used for genealogy research but are sometimes used to steal identities. Unfortunately, the thief may also be a family member who may take advantage of the situation or who has already been using that identity.  This may be more likely if the deceased suffered from lengthy illness, mental confusion, or if there is disagreement among family members prior to the death.

Financial institutions are not immediately made aware that their customer is deceased.  It takes time for the Social Security Administration (SSA) to transmit the Death Master File to the financial industry.  Until the institution receives word that the individual is deceased, the account remains active. The Death Master File is not completely accurate, and does not reflect all deaths.  It is based on information provided by consumers and some governmental agencies.

Until you notify the credit reporting agencies (CRAs) and creditors, they do not know of a death.  The accounts of the deceased will remain open.  An active credit file will stay open for up to 10 years without activity. Thieves look for this and attempt to fraudulently use the Social Security Number (SSN) of a deceased person for an extended length of time until discovery.

Steps to take to decrease identity theft risk when a loved one passes away:

The following steps are recommended by ITRC for all deaths, regardless of age. Specific requirements by the CRAs are listed below. These are some sample letter forms - ITRC Letter Form LF 117-1 – Request a Credit Report for the Deceased (to send to the CRAs) and ITRC Letter Form LF 117-2 – Deceased Affidavit of Fact - to send to the CRAs, creditors and/or merchants when the deceased is a victim of identity theft. It is best to notify all entities by telephone and these calls must be followed-up in writing. Mail all correspondence certified, return receipt requested. Keep photocopies of all correspondence, including letters that you send.

Note: Friends, neighbors or distant relatives do not have the same rights as a spouse or executor of the estate. They are classified as a third party and a CRA may not mail out a credit report or change data on a consumer file upon their request. If you fall into this classification and are dealing with a very unique situation, you may write to the CRA and explain the situation. They are handled on a case-by-case basis.

Specific Instructions from the Credit Reporting Agencies (CRAs)

Experian
P.O. Box 9701
Allen, TX 75013

To order a credit report:

For requests or changes:

Equifax:

Equifax Information Services LLC
Office of Consumer Affairs
PO Box 105139
Atlanta, GA 30348

To order a credit report:

For requests or changes:

TransUnion:
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016

To Order a credit report:

For requests or changes:

Steps to take if you (surviving spouse or estate executor) suspect that someone is fraudulently using the information of a deceased person:

Related Links:

ITRC Solution SN 07 – Fraudulent Use of Deceased’s Identity
ITRC Solution SN 16 – Protecting identity of the Deceased
ITRC Fact Sheet FS 100 – Financial Identity Theft: The Beginning Steps

 

This fact sheet should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..