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Identity thieves ripping off the dead

Dealing with the loss of a loved one is tough enough without being forced to untangle a complicated web of fraudulent charges. Here's what to do if you're handling an estate.

By Stacy Johnson Jun 7, 2011 9:03AM

This post comes from Brandon Ballenger at partner site Money Talks News.


Everybody knows identity thieves are low-down scoundrels, but how low will they go? Apparently, even 6 feet under.


In May, Forbes reported that the Internal Revenue Service had paid out more than $12 million in tax refunds to dead people in 2010 -- victims of identity theft.  It's proof that these days it's not enough to protect your own identity. You have to look out for lost loved ones, too.


Watch the video below to learn more about this terrible practice, and then read on for advice to help prevent it.

As mentioned in the video above, it can take up to six months for banks and government agencies to learn of a death on their own. Since criminals can use that window to steal a dead person's identity, here are the steps you can take to close it:

  • Get certified copies of the death certificate. The first thing you'll do if placed in charge of an estate is to call everyone the deceased dealt with to notify them. While you're on the phone, find out the process for closing or transferring ownership of the account. Nearly all financial institutions will require a death certificate to begin the process. Some may accept photocopies, but most won't. You'll need a certified copy for each. As added protection, also send a certified copy to each of the credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.)
  • Contact financial institutions in writing. Once you understand what each agency or institution wants, prepare it in writing with all the supporting documentation.  What they require will differ by institution, but you'll most likely need to include the name and Social Security number of the deceased, dates of birth and death, home addresses for the past five years, and a copy of the death certificate. Keep copies of all correspondence.
  • Keep the obit vague. When memorializing a loved one in the newspaper, realize the information is going public and may be seen by identity thieves. Try to avoid using the full date of birth, middle and maiden names, and home address.
  • Be careful dumping documents. Make sure to shred any paperwork or junk mail belonging to the deceased before throwing it out, just as you would to protect your own identity. To opt out of junk mail offers, go to or call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688) to have a name removed from direct marketing lists.
  • Request a credit report. Request from all three credit reporting agencies a copy of the deceased's credit report. Here's a form with addresses from the Identity Theft Center that will help. When you get the report, check it for new or suspicious activity, look for accounts that are still open, and make sure the agency flags the report with a notice of death.
  • Freeze their credit. The policies and fees for doing this vary by state, but they prevent any new credit being granted in the deceased's name. Consumers Union has information about each state's policies and exceptions. Note that this won't prevent new credit being granted by institutions the deceased has an existing relationship with -- which is why it's so important to notify them and close those accounts.

More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Aug 16, 2011 8:11PM
Within a month of my brother-in-laws death a guy broke into his savings & checking account,emptied $10,000. The guy and his sister were caught by the FBI and found they had stolen over $600,000 from dead peoples accounts across the country while the real families were going through the process of executors. They got into the savings account somehow and took  $.58 when the bank didn't stop them they emptied the account,then did the same to his checking account. How they knew he died and how they got into the accounts his bank wouldn't tell us. These people were from Indiana and my brother-in-law was from Mass. and didn't know these people.
Aug 16, 2011 6:09PM
I reported to my in-laws bank that they had died, but they still have their account open. No one else was on their account, so they told me I could do nothing with it. I would have to be appointed executor by a court but then they would probably expect me to pay off their loan.
Aug 16, 2011 4:40PM
Who else agrees that this story is a bunch of crap?

The victims here are the LIVING tax payers who are having to pay some moron in the IRS for processing dead peoples tax returns.
Aug 16, 2011 4:24PM

Post mortum Identity thieves = financial ZOMBIES!

Aug 16, 2011 3:53PM

the only one's responsible for allowing this to happen is the three companies that hold you credit reports. They should be held accountable for id. theft, since they never confirm who is really is applying for the credit. Also you should never have to pay back that money, your innocent till provine guilty they should have to prove that you are the one who took that money. just because your social # is on record is not proof of guilt, since they never confirmed it was you.

Aug 16, 2011 3:27PM

#1 - Why would I care - I'm dead............


#2 - Why would my family care, it's not long as I don't leave behind a spouse.  Then you know how it goes.  Two that are married are considered one.  Two that just "live together" are still considered two.  WTF? 


Cons have been playing off of dead people forever........

Aug 16, 2011 2:10PM
They are getting ripped off and voting Democrat. Won`t these dead people ever learn.
Knowing there's nothing new under the sun,this is old already learned information.
Aug 16, 2011 6:57AM
Just like my ex. neighbor. The Retired Army Man died, she just keep cashing his Monthly Check. Then got a Lawyer for $1,000.00 to fix. And she not American Citizen, nor have papers to be in USA.
Jul 18, 2011 12:52PM
I just had an idea for a new Stephen King's about a con artist who steals the identity of a dead person, not knowing the dead man was a serial killer who was never caught, and he's haunted by the ghost of the man whose identity he stole. Maybe that would make some of these ID thieves think twice about what they're doing...
Jul 18, 2011 8:09AM
try being alive and being ripped of by people related to you and F.B.I. conferming that the dead man worked for them and not you.....federal judge's refusing to even let you appear in court to prove you are alive....cover up?....mis apropreate federal payroll and expense money?....take's more than one person in so called trusted position
Jul 9, 2011 10:01PM
Have you ever accidentally been late on a credit card payment. What do the credit card people do?????
Have you ever spent, oh say, $12.00 to make an online purchase. Then you are charged $8.98 for S&H ?????
Have you ever tried to resolve a problem with customer service. You are lucky if you get anybody that even speaks English.

When I die I will ask my family to list every conceivable number associated with me. Bank acct, SSN, Credit Card info, DOB, subscriptions, prescriptions, and anything they can think of.

We can call it "My personal stimulus package.
Jul 9, 2011 2:28AM
hopefully some terriosts figure this technque out, maybe they blow all kinds of guys 
Jul 8, 2011 8:51PM
   The IRS does not care what you do with a social security number as long as you pay the taxes. The IRS is not in business to enforce the law, they only collect taxes. This is why many illegal aliens work under different social security numbers and do not worry. The IRS keeps billions of dollars from unfiled taxes.
Jul 8, 2011 7:13PM
Reality, if you are dead then its not your problem.  By default, the problem used to go to family. Although these days with family ever more distant, and or estranged, Identy theft can go either way. I suppose pay backs are a bitch! 
Jul 8, 2011 5:38PM
No different than the thing a decade or so ago,people taking out life insurance policies on homeless people.Lord help these greedy people.We are all responsible for this culture that greed is good,and enough is never enough.I credit the schools that pumped out MBAs in the 80s for starting this kind of thinking.
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