It seems frightening, the couple died and still kept shopping costly electronics even after their death… It isn’t a joke, Deceased identity theft is common since years and goes unnoticed for years because the victims whose identities are stolen have already died. It is easy to grab the information of the deceased from the funeral homes, hospitals, nursing homes or any kind of published information. Deceased people are easy targets because their families are in a mourning state and they do not get to pay attention or concern towards the personal information like credit cards, social security numbers, and bank accounts etc. of the dead. A similar deceased identity theft case is discussed here.
‘James William Schwartz, 84 years old witnessed a heart attack in Feb 2016. His wife MaryLou who was suffering from endometrial cancer used to be in a wheelchair; physically immobile, tried to reach out to her phone. MaruLou was desperate to call for a help, but it took her 40 minutes to get to the phone due to her physical condition. But due to this delay, James was found dead by the time paramedics arrived. MaryLou also died after 17 days of James’ death.’
During all this and before, the identity thieves have already begun with their impish activities. They went to an authorised dealer and portrayed to be Schwartzes. These thieves paid $150 cash to the dealer to get the elderly’s simple mobiles to be upgraded to new iPhone 6s and told the dealer that the remaining amount is deducted from the Schwartz’s account. This activity began with the identity theft of the deceased as the thieves continued to rob the Schwartzes even when both of them had died. In April 2016, a tablet device was again acquired in the name of MaryLou.
The couple had two daughters, and after the death of Mrs And Mr Schwartz, their daughters came to know about the identity theft after death. The daughters heard about the theft from the local Verizon reseller who noticed about the deactivation of the customers’ phones. The reason why the deceased are vulnerable to identity theft is that they no more can check their credentials and once they are gone, it becomes easy to obtain their information.
This also terms to Ghosting where a dead person’s identity information is stolen to either commit crimes or take other advantages like paying tax. The tax refund fraud is one such crime in which a thief steals the information of a person to get the refunds from the tax already paid by the victim. In few cases, the family is not accountable for identity theft but if a member dies, it is the family’s responsibility to remove the deceased’s name from any joint account.
How can one protect their dead relative from identity theft?
1. Freeze the credit report of the deceased- It is necessary to close the credit reports of the dead and it is the family who needs to notify the credit reporting agencies that no further credit shall be issued.
2. Limit the details in obituaries- If you are giving an obituary, remember not to mention few things in it like the birth date, mother’s maiden name, date of death, etc. This reduces the likelihood of identity theft.
3. Notify other entities with which the deceased has accounts- Inform the credit card companies, insurance companies, banks and social security administration to protect the dead’s identity from being misused.
4. Never fail to report if you find a theft has occurred- Even if all your efforts have failed to protect the deceased from theft, you need to immediately report it to the concerned authorities. You can clearly indicate the death certificate copy to the company as a proof of death, for further investigation.
5. Do not delay in settling the debts of the dead- If you know that the deceased is still left to pay any outstanding amount, the family should clear the debt first. Further, the family members can close the accounts so that the identity thief is unable to pay bills using the name of the dead.
Ghosting is thus no longer easy to commit as it used to be a few years back and you need to keep a check on the signs of identity theft as you or anybody randomly can fall into this trap. Most of the times the identity thieves try to get rid of any criminal record or debts or try to gain financial benefits and find ghosting, an easy way to earn money. Due to the increased computerization of vital records, it becomes easy for the ghosters to find information of the dead. Although besides the increase in the practice of the identity thieves the investigations have also become firm. The modern technology has enabled the investigators to catch hold of the actual culprits who smartly try to fool them.