Losing a close loved one can be a nightmare of grief and sorrow, but the daily reality of that loss can be even worse.
While family members come to terms with the passing of someone close to them, there are mounds of paperwork to be filed, documents to be procured, arrangements to be made, and more. As one Identity Theft Resource Center staffer put it, “It feels like you can’t die these days without a CPA and an attorney.”
A woman in Georgia who asked that her name not be used in a report was doubly the victim of heartache. First, her husband passed away, but within days of his death, his identity was stolen. The thieves used the US postal system to pull it off.
Most likely by watching the obituary pages, the perpetrators filed a change of address form for the deceased man’s name and address. At the same time, they placed a three-day hold on his mail, which is the process postal customers use if they’re going to be out of town, having renovations done at their address or any other reason they don’t want their mail delivered temporarily.
This additional step prevented the woman from receiving the change of address notification letter. It was only after she realized that she hadn’t received any mail in her husband’s name that she noticed something was wrong. By the time she reported it to the post office, the thieves had already opened lines of credit in her husband’s name and racked up expensive charges. In addition to the pain of her loss and the typical paperwork that goes with it, she has to fight to clear her husband’s name with creditors.
As if grieving family members needed any more responsibility on their shoulders, there is a preventive measure you can take to keep your loved one’s identity from being compromised. Financial advice guru Clark Howard recommends immediately placing a freeze on the deceased person’s credit report. This should keep anyone from opening a new line of credit in order to make a large purchase in that individual’s name.
Unfortunately, it’s worth noting that many crimes are committed by someone the victim knows. In cases like this, some people mistakenly assume that any charges made after the victim’s death won’t impact their family members, but that’s not always true. It’s awful to think that a family member or friend might take advantage of a death in your family, but it does happen. Make sure your loved one’s important papers, documents, credit cards, and identification are secured immediately upon their passing to keep someone close to you from using their identity.
Scams like this one are all too common, but they’re not the only way thieves can target a deceased person’s identity. It’s important to also contact the Social Security Administration immediately upon your loved one’s death in order to prevent anyone from using the individual’s SSN.
Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.