Protect the deceased from identity theft

The death of a loved one is a very stressful time, and if you’re the one responsible for administering the deceased’s estate, you get the added burden of settling the estate and disposing of any debt. While identity theft may be the last thing on your mind, it may be a bigger risk that you think.

The deceased are at particular risk for identity theft because the family is in mourning. Chances are no one is watching your loved one’s credit report for suspicious activity or safeguarding their personal information. And it can take up to six months for all three credit agencies to be notified of the death.

In the meantime, unscrupulous people are scouring the obituaries for personal information about the deceased. With a name, address and birth date in hand, thieves can purchase a social security number on the Internet for as little at $10. Each year the identities of nearly 2.5 million deceased Americans are used to fraudulently open credit card accounts, apply for loans and open cellphone accounts or other services.

Surviving family members are not responsible for these fraudulent accounts or the debt they incur, but it is distressing nevertheless. Here are some practical steps you can take to protect your loved one’s identity even after death.

Notify creditors and credit bureaus

As soon as possible after the death, the executor of the estate should notify creditors and all three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Ask to have the account annotated with the statement, “Deceased: do not issue credit.”

The executor should also request a copy of the deceased’s credit report to identify any outstanding debt. Once you have received the official death certificate, send an original certificate (a copy will not be sufficient) to each of the credit bureaus and to each creditor.

Finally, make sure you have notified the Social Security Administration so they can update their files and notify the credit bureaus.

When notifying the creditors and other official agencies of a death, be sure to send the notifications by certified mail and keep a copy of all notices sent.

Here are the addresses of the three major credit reporting agencies:

PO Box 740260
Atlanta, GA 30374

PO Box 2002
Allen, TX 75013

PO Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022

More useful identity theft resources

Back to financial education resources

Go to main navigation