Could Your Deceased Loved One Be a Victim of Identity Theft?

Charlotte Miller

Updated on:


The loss of a loved one is a tragic event that few recover from quickly. It can take years for feelings of sadness and anger to abate, if they ever do. The last thing a grieving person needs during their journey to acceptance is for their loved one’s identity to be stolen.

Believe it or not, identity thieves sometimes target those who have recently passed. Called ghosting, this crime can occur in the days or weeks after a person’s death, and if their loved ones are not keeping careful watch of the estate, the thieves could steal much more than that person’s good credit.

If you want to protect a deceased family member from identity theft, here are a few steps you can take to keep them safe:

Know When and Why Ghosting Occurs

While it might be tempting to assume that identity thieves are unaware of an individual’s passing when they take steps to steal that person’s identity, the truth is that many identity thieves intentionally target the recently deceased. Criminals read obituaries, genealogy websites and other sources for news about people who have passed. This information, augmented with additional details from social media and other sources, can be enough for identity thieves to successfully commandeer a deceased person’s identity. Using falsified credentials, a thief may apply for credit cards in a deceased person’s name, take advantage of their utilities accounts, commit tax fraud, obtain medical services and more.

Some identity thieves choose to target the deceased because these victims are totally unable to protect their own identities and their loved ones are likely too preoccupied with grief, estate management and other responsibilities to take the right steps to keep the departed person’s identity safe. What’s more, the deceased are often advanced in years, which may mean they have higher credit scores, much larger tax refunds and much better health benefits, for example. The savviest identity thieves will search through obituaries and other sources to find targets more likely to have these attractive assets.

Though it might not seem like it should be high on your list of to-dos after your loved one passes, protecting their identity is important not only for your loved one but also for you and the rest of your surviving family. Here are a few things you can do:

Keep Details Scarce in Obituaries

Obituaries have come to serve multiple purposes, from announcing a death to the wider community to celebrating the life of a dearly departed loved one. However, as much as you might want to reminisce about your loved one and share precious memories, you should try to keep the information published for public consumption to a minimum. In the best case, you should provide only your loved one’s name and the date, time and location of their services, and any other details about your loved one should be imparted only in company with close friends and family.

Notify Government Agencies and Financial Institutions ASAP

Ghosting is successful because there is a length of time in between the passing of an individual, the issuing of a death certificate and the awareness of government agencies and financial institutions. Fast-acting thieves can exploit the unawareness of the Social Security Administration, the IRS and banks — but not if you act faster to keep these organizations informed. As soon as you possibly can, you should issue copies of your loved one’s death certificate to all of the following groups to prevent identity thieves from taking advantage of the deceased:

  • Internal Revenue Service
  • Social Security Administration
  • Banks
  • Mortgage companies
  • Stock brokers
  • Credit card companies
  • Equifax, TransUnion and Experian

Sign up for Digital ID Protection

Ideally while your loved one is still alive, you should acquire for them (and you) some form of digital identity theft protection. These services provide additional security on digital devices to prevent data-stealing malware attacks, and they scan the Dark Web for evidence of personal details that could be used in identity theft. The sooner this kind of protection is in place, the more you can do to prevent ghosting.

Even as you work to process your grief, you need to think practically about the needs of your deceased loved one. You can take steps now to stop the further heartbreak of ghosting for any and all loved ones, alive or passed.