What to Do

Unfortunately, being a victim of identity theft is not uncommon. According to a February 2007 survey by Javelin Strategy & Research, 8.4 million U.S. adults were victims of identity theft in 2007. That number has actually decreased from 10.1 million in 2003 and 9.3 million in 2005. This decrease is probably due in part to education about identity theft. More financial institutions have programs in place to protect their customers and consumers are becoming more aware of how to safeguard their information.
   
Though the trend is decreasing, many millions of the people and their deceased relatives are still affected by identity theft each year. (According to the same survey, the average fraud amount per victim in 2007 was $5,270.) Some safeguards:

  • It is important to act immediately if you think the decedent was a victim of identity theft either before or after death. All major creditors have identity theft and fraud departments that you can contact. You'll need to send a death certificate, a police report, and possibly other documents. They can give you details on how to resolve the dispute charges. Make sure to keep records of everything done to resolve the fraud committed on the accounts. Creditors and authorities will want documentation of all the conversations and actions to prove the identity theft. It is important to act immediately if you think the decedent was a victim of identity theft either before or after death. All major creditors have identity theft and fraud departments that you can contact.

  • Make sure to keep records of everything done to resolve the fraud committed on the accounts. Creditors and authorities will want documentation of all the conversations and actions to prove the identity theft.

Take these steps if you feel the Decedent may be a victim of identity theft:

  1. Get a fraud alert placed on the credit report. By calling one of the three credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion), you ensure that creditors must verify the identity before opening any new accounts. Also request that the account is marked “deceased." This will prevent anyone from opening more accounts.

  2. Get a copy of the credit report. Each citizen is entitled to one free credit report from each agency per year. Credit reports of the decedent can be obtained with proper documentation. It is important to get a report from all three agencies as they may have differing information.

  3. Call the police. Call the local police and file a police report about the theft. Most creditors will require a copy of the report in order to dispute charges. If the theft was not committed locally, file the report with the police department where the theft occurred. Try to give as much detail as possible in the report, including amounts, location, etc. The more detail included the stronger the report will be as evidence of the theft. Get a copy of the report for yourself as well and keep track of the report number assigned to it.

  4. Research. Use a credit report to see which accounts may have been compromised. Login to all online banking accounts and examine banking statements to see which accounts were used and how much money may have been stolen. Be sure to look at every account no matter how unlikely it may seem that the thief would have accessed it. Make sure to also look for new accounts opened fraudulently.

  5. 5. Close all accounts that were compromised.  Consolidate and close the decedent’s accounts. In the case of credit cards, the issuer should cancel the card because of the decedent’s death. Make sure the financial institutions know that you are closing the accounts because of death and get information from them about how to dispute any fraudulent charges made. There’s no reason for the estate to pay charges incurred due to identity theft of the decedent. If the company can tag those accounts as compromised, ask them to do so and also make sure they will be reported as “closed by customer request” on the credit report.

  6. Consider all the different accounts someone may have opened or accessed. It’s not just credit cards and bank accounts that might be compromised. Telephone or cell phone accounts, Internet service providers, cable or satellite accounts and utilities may also have been accessed and compromised.

  7. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The complaint form can be used as an identity theft report in conjunction with the police report. This can help you recover the funds or disputed charges more quickly than if you do not file a complaint. An identity theft report helps notify creditors that someone is a victim of identity theft. Filing a complaint also helps the FTC track and prosecute identity thieves.

Additional Tips:

  • If the decedent’s checks have been stolen and fraudulently written, you will want to contact businesses who do check verification. These businesses mark people who write bad checks or overdraw their accounts. Your bank can contact the check verification service they use to ensure that the person who stole the information has not caused any blemishes on a credit report or caused any debts that the estate will be responsible for later.

  • If identification was stolen, you need to contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the U.S. State Department’s Passport Services department or other appropriate agency to cancel the old identification. If the identification has already been cancelled because of death, but someone was able to obtain new identification in the decedent’s name, again, contact the DMV or the U.S. State Department as appropriate.

  • If you find that the thief used a social security number to steal benefits or to get a job, contact the Social Security Administration’s Fraud Department either by phone or by using their online form available at www.ssa.gov.

  • If you think the mail was somehow compromised, contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (the law-enforcement department of the post office).