Ghosting identity theft, a strange kind of identity theft, affects millions of Americans every year. According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), every year identities of 2.5 million deceased American are stolen. Identity theft is not just a problem for the living people only, but even the deceased have to suffer.
What is ghosting identity theft?
Ghosting identity theft is a type of identity theft in which the identity thief, known as the “ghoster”, steals the identity of a dead person.
Ghosting should not be confused with Synthetic identity theft in which the thief sometimes uses a fictional/ false information to use another identity. In ghosting, the thief uses all the real information of the deceased person to obtain his identity. The purpose of ghosting is to acquire an identity listed in the government records as false information cannot be used to obtain government benefits.
How ghosters steal identity?
The ghosters can steal the identities of the deceased from obituaries, hospitals, and funeral homes. The ghosters then learn the information published in the obituaries, or from the documents found in the hospitals or funeral homes to commit identity theft.
Why ghosters steal identity?
Ghosters steal identities for several reasons:
Unlike other forms of identity theft in which the identity thief steals the identity to commit a crime, ghosting identity theft involves stealing a deceased person’s identity after committing a crime. There are various individuals who are running away from bad debts, criminal records, etc. These people acquire identities of deceased people to lead a normal life again with a clean identity.
Another reason for stealing identity which is the most common reason also is to acquire financial benefits using another person’s identity and at the same time using one’s own identity.
It usually takes up to 6 months for the Social Security Administration, financial institutions, and credit reporting agencies to process a death, therefore, the identity thieves have lots of time to do malicious things using the stolen identity.
Why ghosters target the recently deceased?
As it is known that government organizations and other agencies take a lot of time to process a death; another important fact is that these organizations are not automatically notified of the death of the deceased.
In fact, the financial accounts of the deceased can remain active for up to 10 years if they are not notified about the death.
Therefore, the ghoster can take advantage of this and apply for a passport or government benefits using the deceased’s identity as the agencies don’t usually cross-check that if a death certificate has been issued in the applicant’s name.
Whose identities do ghosters target?
Well, it’s obvious that the ghosters target the identities of the deceased. But which type of identity he really chooses to acquire?
If a ghoster wants to exploit a deceased’s identity just for financial gains, then he chooses the identity of any person irrespective of the age, race or gender of the deceased. But, if the ghoster intends to live in the deceased’s identity, then he chooses the one having the similar appearance, birthdate, height, gender, race, etc. as his own.
Example of ghosting identity theft
A very popular example of ghosting identity theft involves actress Courtney Love. Courtney Love’s late husband Kurt Cobain, the former lead singer of Nirvana, committed suicide several years ago. Several thieves have taken advantage of his identity. According to Courtney Love, a thief used the Social Security Number (SSN) of her husband to purchase a $3.2 million house in New Jersey. She reported to a newspaper in London that several men have used her late husband’s SSN to defraud her of millions of dollars.
What steps must be taken to avoid ghosting identity theft?
Deceased individuals are Vulnerable Victims of Identity Theft. To avoid the mishap of dealing with ghosting identity theft, take the following precautionary measures in the case of death of any family member:
While publishing an obituary in the newspaper, don’t mention critical information like full date of birth, full address, etc. This makes difficult for the thief to acquire necessary information.
Request several copies of the death certificate as soon as they are available.
Immediately inform the Social Security Administration about the death.
Notify all the financial institutions such as credit card companies, banks, mortgage companies, insurance companies, investment firms, etc. at the earliest by sending a death certificate.
Contact all three Credit Reporting Agencies (CRAs) Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion and request to flag the deceased’s account.
Also, request for the credit reports from the CRAs. Regularly check the credit reports in order to check activities in these accounts.
Inform about the death to the Department of Motor Vehicles so that the person’s driver’s license cannot be used illegally.
File a final tax return, if applicable.
Ghosting identity theft is not a minor problem and cannot be ignored. The death of an individual in the family is already a tragic point in everyone’s life and identity theft can make it worse. Don’t let this happen to your loved ones. Take appropriate measures of Identity Theft Prevention.