Your identity can persist in the online world even after you have left the real one. Identity theft after death is a common scam that can create additional anguish and take unnecessary time from the loved ones and families of a deceased loved one. Often thieves troll newspaper obituaries to collect information about a deceased person. Additional personal information can be retrieved by scrolling through social media accounts. You may understand the phrase 'ghosting' as a term used to end a relationship without explanation, but it also refers to identity theft of the deceased. This type of ‘ghosting’ activity is effective since it could take up to six months for financial institutions to receive and or share death records. Thieves do not hesitate to take advantage of a family’s grief. Each year identity thieves steal the identities of nearly 2.5 million deceased Americans to fraudulently open credit card accounts, apply for loans, get cell phones or other fraudulent activities.
Properly managing your digital footprint can help protect your identity and the identity of your loved ones now and after you are gone.
Steps To Take Before Death:
- Make sure the privacy settings are in use on your social media accounts and that you are not sharing details about your life that would allow a thief to figure out your passwords.
- Keep in mind that your digital footprint includes content that goes back a decade or more and may need cleaning up.
- Make a list of all online accounts and passwords to be shared with a person you trust and/or your lawyer as part of your estate planning. Your list should include:
All of your online accounts, logins, passwords, email accounts
Social media accounts such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.
Any sites you use to purchase or sell products and services like eBay, Amazon, Craigslist, Zappos, Spotify, streaming video, etc.
All online retailers where you have open accounts
All business and services where you have on-line banking, utilities, cable, phone, credit cards, etc.
All accounts in which you use automatic transfers or payments via credit card or checking account withdrawal such as Paypal, Venmo, etc.
- Discuss with your trusted person or lawyer whether you want these accounts closed after your death. In some cases, like Facebook, there is an option to change an account to a memorial status. Some accounts will require a death certificate in order to close them down.
- Check your social media sites for options like Facebook’s, “legacy contact”. This option enables you to designate someone to keep your page up for memorial purposes, or easily request removal of your account.
- The laws in each state differ as to who gets access to a deceased person’s digital accounts. Currently, Colorado Law permits a social media user to either use an online tool to direct disclosure or partial disclosure of a user’s digital assets to a designated recipient, or may allow or prohibit disclosure of digital assets in an end-of-life document such as a will, trust or power of attorney.
Steps to Take After Death:
- Avoid putting too much information in an obituary, such as birthdate, address, mother’s maiden name, or other personally identifying information that can be useful to identity thieves.
- Close down the deceased social media accounts so that identity thieves do not have access to personal information that will help them pose as the deceased.
- After a loved one passes away, send copies of the death certificate to notify each credit reporting agency as soon as possible. This will make sure that new credit cannot be granted in the deceased’s name The Social Security Administration will eventually contact credit bureaus, however it could take several months, and by that time identity theft may have already occurred.
- Review the deceased credit report for questionable activity.
- After a loved one passes away, you should find about their financial accounts that might be still be open. You can do this for free at annualcredit.com.
- Send the IRS a copy of the death certificate.
- Contact the department of motor vehicles to cancel the deceased’s license, and to prevent duplicates from being issued.
- Contact Direct Marketing Association to put the person’s name on the “deceased do not contact” list.
- More tips to help protect a deceased person’s identity can be found at IDTheftCenter.org website, type in ‘deceased’ in the search box.
Some people will be tempted to leave their loved ones social media accounts active for sentimental reasons. However, doing so can be an invitation to thieves. Although all of these steps may seem like small details, they consist of the kind of leads identity thieves use to initiate their scams.
If you believe you or a deceased loved one have been victimized by Identity Theft, contact the Colorado Bureau of Investigations Identity Theft Unit online or by telephone at 1-855-443-3489 (toll free).