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A Warning to Heirs: Identity Thieves Target the Deceased

Criminals scour obituaries and other sources for personal information that can be used to commit fraud

Identity thieves will stop at nothing – not even the death of the intended victim – when it comes to stealing someone's personal information to commit fraud.

Crafty criminals look for personal details about the deceased in obituaries (in the newspaper or online), genealogy Web sites, death certificates and other sources. Armed with personal information – such as a full name, address and date of birth – an ID thief may be able to obtain a new Social Security card, a driver's license, or loans and credit cards, even though the victim is no longer alive.

FDIC Consumer News suggests that families consider the following actions after a loved one dies:

Limit the amount of personal information in obituaries. "It's a good idea to leave out the exact birth date of the deceased. If anything, provide only the birth year," said David Nelson, a fraud specialist in the FDIC's Financial Crimes Section.

Consider omitting a wife's maiden name because many financial institutions use a mother's maiden name as a security password. "If an obituary publicizes a woman's maiden name and lists her children, an identity thief may be able to use that and other information to order credit cards or otherwise go on a spending spree in the childrens' names," Nelson added.

Obtain several copies of the death certificate and then proceed to close bank, brokerage, credit card and other accounts as needed.

Ask your attorney or accountant for advice about closing and reopening accounts in survivors' names.

Also, quickly report the death to the fraud departments of all three major credit bureaus (see If a Crime Has Been Committed), which financial institutions rely on when handling credit applications, and the Social Security Administration.

"It's important to help prevent identity thieves from assuming the deceased person's identity before the estate is settled," explained Nelson. "Otherwise, there may be credit extended to the fraudsters that will need to be resolved before distributions can be made to heirs."

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