By Frank Cseke, Esq.
I have seen an 5-year-old's identity used by criminals for financial gain, and I have seen an 85-year-old's used for the same - I have also seen someone no longer living whose identity was stolen to use for criminal purposes. All of these were unfortunate and taxing on the families dealing with the victimization of a loved one by identity theft. However, I feel the "grave robber" identity thief scenario to be one that is somewhat more disturbing; one who steals certainly stoops to a low level, but robbing the dead takes on another baseless level of moral turpitude. In any event, identity theft in particular is highly troubling to many because of the feeling of helplessness as far as preventing it from occurring, whether for the living or the deceased.
Specifically, I would like to examine the identity theft of a deceased family member. Regardless of the fact that one is deceased, postmortem identity theft injures the living, especially dependents who are relying upon the estate for their support. As such, clients who have contacted me for assistance in the probate process, usually the personal representative, want to know everything they can do to preserve the estate's assets. With equal importance to some of the other financial affairs, preventing identity theft of the deceased person is on the list of "items to do" - when one dies, they are unfortunately exposed to the public record as a deceased individual thus making them a more unique and vulnerable target by identity theft criminals.
It is a good idea to follow these steps you can take to prevent identity theft of a deceased family member:
(1) Consolidate and collect all of the documents, financial and otherwise, belonging to the deceased. This may be an overwhelming task given what one can accumulate in a lifetime, but it is essential for the personal representative of the estate, or executor/executrix, for probate matters and the closing of the estate. Keep these in one, secure, place. By documents, collect also anything electronically stored including the devices storing such data, i.e. computers, disks, CDs, etc.
(2) Write discreet obituaries. Keep in mind, that anything you publish becomes both public and brings attention to the fact of the family member's death. As such, avoid writing anything that reveals too much about the deceased's background, occupation, names of spouses and parents, as these can be used by identity theft criminals to open accounts.
(3) Safeguard death certificates and store the original in your safe or deposit box. Also, send death certificates only to trusted institutions and give only to trusted individuals helping you. Therefore, by working with local tax professionals and persons assisting you in the probate and administrative process it can be less risky than those operating from a "remote" location. When the typical estate may need a dozen or so certificates one cannot be too careful with these.
(4) Give prompt notice to credit bureaus by contacting Experian, 1-888-397-3742; Equifax, 1-888-766-0008; TransUnion, 1-800-680-7289. Moreover, send certified letters to them, logging all correspondence, including an explicit request not to issue credit and only to disclose information to the authorized person for the estate. At the same time request credit reports for closing accounts and notifying creditors.
(5) Do not forget to notify Social Security as well as all financial institutions and all entities doing business with the deceased. Accordingly, notify all banks, insurance companies, creditors and collection agencies if any, lien holders and mortgagors, lessors, debtors (including family members who owe money), etc. In addition, notify the Veterans Administration if they are a veteran and the Social Security Administration, the Department of Motor Vehicles, clubs and organizations or anything membership related, etc.
(6) Contact your attorney about destruction of documents. There is a point in time for probate, taxes and financial affairs, that the documents are no longer needed. When it comes time to destroy them do not just burn for shred them unless you are certain nothing can be salvaged. It may be worth looking into a local shredding company or have your attorney or accountant dispose of them.
(7) Be careful how you involve family members and how much information you give to them. To the dismay of many, a common identity theft situation can occur with a family member or friend. Watch closely those who may have felt unfairly treated in the probate process or held resentment against the deceased - scrutinize everyone, but use tact. It will be easier on you, and safer, to use one family member or friend to help you and disclose information. So, while unfortunate, guard information with family and friends, and be careful how you explain why and what you reveal.
The criminal intentions in identity theft of the deceased range from opening accounts to absconding with property. While it is a difficult time to deal with both the loss and matters following death, the stark reality is that when we die we become easier targets for identity theft, as is publicized by many police departments who educate the public on the issue. Information pamphlets can often be found through your local law enforcement agencies. Finding one of these can also help you learn more in general about preventing identity theft and what you can do if it ever happens. All in all, prevention requires more than just being cautious, education and up-to-date information are also critical.
Frank A. Cseke
Attorney at Law
Wills and Trusts,
Article Source: [http://EzineArticles.com/?Identity-Theft-of-the-Deceased?-Steps-You-Can-Take-to-Prevent-Identity-Theft-of-Deceased-Family&id=3637941] Identity Theft of the Deceased? Steps You Can Take to Prevent Identity Theft of Deceased Family