America continues to age with an ever-increasing percentage of our population falling into the senior segment, with more and more of “The Greatest Generation” are passing each day. Identity thieves are keying in on this vulnerable, yet lucrative target in what’s known as “ghosting,” or in simple terms pretending to be a deceased individual for monetary gains.

An Ohio family unfortunately found out about ghosting the hard way when identity thieves stole over $2.2 million dollars from their recently deceased father’s estate.

It’s a topic I first wrote about several years ago to sound an alarm of yet another ID-theft crime category. Since that time, I have had a number of requests from Arizona Republic readers to write another article on how to prevent ID theft criminals from “ghosting” family and friends who have died – as criminals have known for years that assuming the identity of a deceased person can be a profitable venture.

Each year, thieves steal the identities of nearly 2.5 million deceased Americans,according to the Internal Revenue Service. These include people of all ages, from seniors to children.

The definition of ghosting is when a deceased individual’s personally identifiable information is stolen to commit fraudulent acts such as account takeover, taxpayer ID theft and refund fraud, medical ID theft, driver’s license ID theft, applying for new credit cards and loans, and even applying for employment.

Ghosting can result in creditors coming after the heirs of a deceased loved one, problems with a deceased’s estate and lenders being fooled and losing money in the name of a deceased.

There’s also Synthetic ID Theft using a deceased’s personal information, where the criminal intentionally creates or misspells a deceased person’s name and/or manipulates a Social Security number or birth date when fraudulently completing a credit card or loan application.

What can be done? First, the Social Security Administration maintains a Death Master File, and all three major credit bureaus and most financial institutions subscribe to monthly updates. However, it can take up to 60 days for a name to make it onto the list.

Ideally, relatives and funeral directors notify the states of deaths and the states then communicate said deaths to the SSA. When the SSA receives a death notice, it will then flag the person’s Social Security number as “inactive.”

Below is the latest IRS information on key points and tactics to help protect and reduce the risk of ghosting:

  • Send the IRS a copy of the death certificate. This is used to flag the account to reflect that the person is deceased.
  • Send copies of the death certificate to each credit reporting bureau asking them to put a “deceased alert” on the deceased’s credit report.
  • Review the deceased’s credit report for questionable credit card activity.
  • Avoid putting too much information in an obituary, such as birth date, address, mother’s maiden name or other personally identifying information that could be useful to identity thieves.
  • More information to help you guard against identity theft is available at Enter “ID theft” in the search box. Other tips to help protect a deceased person’s identify can also be found on the website. Type “deceased” in the search box.

Examples of ID theft and fraud related to a deceased relative can be identified through a collection notice, a credit card bill, a notification from law enforcement or a credit report.

Mark’s most important: ID theft ghosting is very real. Take action when loved ones die by securing their personal information. Use the above IRS recommendations as a resource to help minimize the risk of ID theft and fraud.

Mark Pribish is vice president and ID-theft practice leader at Merchants Information Solutions Inc., an ID theft-background screening company based in Phoenix. Contact him at

This article was originally published on and republished with the author’s permission.

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