Thieves targeting identity of the deceased - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Thieves targeting identity of the deceased

You probably know a lot about protecting yourself from identity theft, but did you know thieves have also been known to target the dead?

About 400,000 checking accounts were opened in the name of deceased people last year in the U.S. 

Stealing the identity of a dead person is referred to as "ghosting." Here are some tips to prevent this type of crime from happening to someone you know. 

Maureen Huggins and her husband married when they were in their seventies. A short time later, he died of a heart attack.

"I put him to bed one night, I gave his medicine and I told him I loved him, and he told me he loved me, and that's the last words," Huggins said.

When she filed their joint income tax return a few months later, she got a big surprise. 

"The next day, H & R Block called me and said that I couldn't claim him because somebody else had claimed him," she recalled.

Huggins had to file another form and try again. After months of trying to resolve the matter, she called her tax preparer back.

"They told me that it was identity theft and they were sorry," Huggins said.

All of this left her wondering how an identity thief, or a "ghost" as they're called, was able to steal her husband's personal information.

Obituaries are great for informing people about the death of a loved one, but they can also tip off crooks who are looking to prey on others.

Identity thieves have been known to comb newspapers as well as the internet looking for a dead person's identity to steal.

In some cases, the ghost specifically looks for someone whose age, race, and nationality is similar to the identity thief.

Before the flowers whither on your loved one's grave, call the Social Security Administration, the Department of Motor Vehicles, banks, credit card companies, or any other place where you loved one had an open account.

When a ghost attempts to use your loved one's identity, it will alert officials that something is wrong.

The most important thing you can do is to notify the three national credit reporting agencies. You should ask them to list all accounts as Closed: Account Holder is Deceased.

You should also close your loved one's email or social media accounts, like Facebook, so "ghosts" won't be able to steal that information later on.

For a bereaved family, coping with death isn't easy, but Huggins' advice concerning identity theft is simple.

"Watch it, make sure you watch, take care of all your numbers, don't give it out to anybody," Huggins warns.   

You can also sign up for identity protection alerts. For a small fee, companies will monitor to see if a ghost tries to use your loved one's personal information to obtain a loan or a bank account. If they do, an alert will immediately be sent to you by mail or email.

Click here to print a Death Notification Checklist from the National Funeral Directors Association that will remind you of all the agencies and businesses you should notify in the event of a loved one's death.

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