This article outlines the important steps to take to ensure that your deceased loved one is not a victim of identity theft. The number of identity theft victims is staggering; the Pennsylvania Attorney General reports that more than 10 million Americans each year are a victim of identity theft. When someone passes away, they often become an easy and unidentifiable candidate for identity theft. Family members may become unguarded and feel that since their loved one has passed, their identity does not need to be protected. However, the truth is, the deceased tend to be a prime target for identity theft.
Obituaries often release a lot of personal information regarding a decedent; this can become a major source for thieves to locate unsuspecting victims. Thieves are able to get the name of your loved one, the county they passed away in, and the names of their family members. This makes it easy for the criminal to look up the court records of the decedent or the decedent’s estate.
When you probate your loved one’s estate, the decedent’s name, social security number, and last address all become public record. Further, when you file a Pennsylvania Inheritance Tax Return, Pennsylvania Inventory, and Accounting, account numbers and location of where certain assets were held also become public record.
Here are some important steps to take when your loved one passes away to help prevent identity theft after death:
- Notify Social Security Administration of your loved one’s passing.
- Call all credit card companies that your loved one had accounts with and cancel the accounts, even if the account has not been used in years and there is no balance.
- Cut up old credit cards.
- Notify financial institutions, health insurance company, pension company, etc. of your loved one’s death.
- When cleaning out old documents, make sure that you are properly disposing of sensitive information by shredding it.
- Notify the three major credit reporting agencies that your loved one has passed (Equifax at (800) 846-5279, Experian at (888) 397-3742, and TransUnion at (800) 888-4213). This will protect new accounts from being opened in your loved one’s name.
- Notify the Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles of your loved one’s passing if they had an active Pennsylvania driver’s license or identification card. This will protect from your loved one’s identification from being used falsely.
- Make sure that your loved one’s mail is secured by notifying the Post Office of a forwarding address.
- File a final lifetime income tax return for your loved one notifying the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue and the Department of the Treasury Internal Revenue Services of the death of your loved one. Also file an IRS Form 56 notifying the IRS of your appointment as fiduciary for the estate.
- If your loved one had a U.S. Passport, you should have the passport cancelled and returned. A copy of the Certificate of Death is required along with the passport. If you want the cancelled passport returned, you must include a letter stating that request. Mail the passport, Certificate of Death, and letter requesting cancelled/returned passport (if applicable) to the following address:
U.S. Department of State
Consular Lost and Stolen Passport Unit (CLASP)
44132 Mercure Circle
P.O. Box 1227
Sterling, VA 20166-1227
If you suspect that your deceased loved one has been a victim of identity theft, contact your local police department and the Attorney General at 1-800-441-2555. You can also contact the Social Security Administration fraud hotline at 1-800-269-0271.
— Written by Rebecca A. Hobbs, Esq., CELA*
*Certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation as authorized by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
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