What You Need to Know About Identity Theft of Your Deceased Loved Ones

The last thing we want to think about after a loved one passes away is identity theft. No - I’m not talking about someone stealing your identity. I’m talking about someone stealing the identity of your recently deceased loved one.

It’s upsetting to think that someone out there would actively be taking advantage of vulnerable families who have just lost a spouse, a parent, or child. Unfortunately, it happens to approximately 800,000 people each year. Identity thieves troll through obituaries and Facebook notifications and strike quickly while grieving family members are still getting the deceased’s estate in order.

Shockingly, identity thieves can purchase a Social Security number for as little as $10 online, and combined with information provided in an obituary - such as name and address - they have enough to start opening accounts in your loved one’s name. So, what do you do if this happens? And how can you prevent it?

Report the Death to Credit Bureaus ASAP

Best practices state that one credit bureau should notify the other two as soon as they receive a death certificate. Then, all three bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax and Experian) will put a death alert on the deceased’s credit. This freezes any future activity, and notifies their creditors that they have passed away. To be safe, it’s recommended that you contact all three bureaus rather than relying on them to communicate amongst themselves.

To contact them, you’ll need to write an official letter containing the deceased’s legal name, Social Security number, date of birth, date of death, and a copy of the death certificate. It’s also wise to include the letter-writer or executor’s full name, and the address for sending a final confirmation that a death alert has been placed.

What if It’s Already Happened?

If you’re going through this right now - you have my deepest sympathies. Nobody deserves to fight fraudsters while trying to muscle through the already emotionally trying death of a loved one. When you’re facing a situation where your deceased loved one’s identity has been stolen, there are a few things you should do right away:

  1. Contact local authorities to report the theft.
  2. Reach out to all three credit bureaus and request a death alert.
  3. Notify the bureaus of the theft.
  4. Notify the creditors that the deceased is, in fact, passed away. They may also need a copy of death certificates and something that proves your relationship to the deceased (like a marriage certificate).

Identity theft is never an enjoyable problem to deal with, and it becomes even more difficult when it’s wrapped up in the grieving process. Taking preventative measures to protect your loved ones against identity theft and knowing what to do should it happen to you are both key to helping you move through the situation as quickly as possible. Your or your loved one’s trusted financial advisor can be there to assist with advice and referrals should you encounter a situation like this.


Wood Smith Advisors, a woman-owned Registered Investment Advisor (RIA), is a fee-only financial services firm that partners with its clients to simplify their financial lives. We focus on women, entrepreneurs and individuals with complex financial situations, providing objective and competent advice, education and services to help them develop and build their businesses and reach their financial goals. We can be reached by clicking here.

"Finance Made Simple" blog posts are intended for educational purposes and not for specific advice. Each person’s situation is different. Consult your financial advisor for advice relating to topics discussed.

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