Seniors and Identity Fraud

August 25, 2015

About 2.5 million Americans fall victim to some sort of identity fraud every year. The elderly and deceased have increasingly become targets of financial exploitation. According to a study published by MetLife Mature Market Institute, America’s senior citizens lose more than $2.9 billion every year due to scams and 1 out of 5 cases of identity fraud involves a deceased’s identity.

Here are some important steps to keeping one’s identity safe even after someone has passed away:

Notify Social Security
The Social Security Administration’s Death Master File (DMF), home of the information of nearly 100 million deceased people, has become a breeding ground for identity theft over the past few years.

Alerting the Social Security Administration to the death of a loved one is important because it prevents identity theft and frauds from trying to collect the deceased’s Social Security payments. As a survivor, you’ll receive a small one-time payment, but you’ll want to avoid receiving additional social security payments. It’s best to take care of Social Security right away.

Notify Financial Institutions
Banks, insurance companies, credit card companies, mortgage companies, stock brokers, and all other financial institutions should be informed right away about the death of your loved one. In doing so, accounts can be managed appropriately to avoid problems later. Decide how you want to transfer, modify, or close these accounts and continue to monitor them for suspicious activity. This also helps prevents fraudsters from opening and using new lines of credit.

Notify Credit Bureaus
Notifying credit bureaus is one of the most important steps you can take to prevent identity theft after the loss of a loved one because it allows for the flagging of their credit report. You can contact the three national credit bureaus TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian, and request that their credit report be flagged with a note that reads, “Deceased. Do Not Issue Credit.” At the same time you may also wish to request the credit report of the decedent in order to have a list of their accounts.

Manage Mail
Begin by contacting the Postal Service to get the deceased’s mail rerouted to you or the executor of the estate. This prevents the more ambitious thieves from obtaining sensitive documents or information.

In today's technological age, the reality is that identities of the deceased are easier targets than those of the living. Aging people tend to suffer from memory lapses and often lack fluency in technology. Factor in that elderly individuals may have accumulated wealth, it is no wonder that these crimes happen on a daily basis. The deceased have no capability of protecting themselves from identity theft and must rely on family members to promptly and correctly carry out all of the necessary tasks. Sadly, in approximately one third of identity theft cases, the perpetrator is a relative. At times even trusted family members of the deceased do not pay close attention to various and minute details that may actually be opening them up to theft.

To make sure this does not happen to you or a loved one, be sure to close every account that may hold personal information. A quick Google search can provide you with some resources to help you do this. 

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