I've just heard a horror story from a colleague about his deceased brother's identity being stolen. My mother is at death's door, and I want to do whatever necessary to protect her in life and in death. Any suggestions? -- Samuel Son
Dear Mr. Son: According to AARP, each year thieves steal the identities of 2.5 million deceased people. Nearly 800,000 are deliberately targeted, often using information found in newspaper obituaries. Sometimes these scumballs use info gleaned from hospitals or funeral homes. But whatever the avenue, what's really scary is that armed with the right information, an ID thief can purchase a person's Social Security number from the Internet for as little as $10. This time of year, crooks file tax returns under the names of our dead loved ones and collect refunds; in fact, in 2011, these refunds totaled $5.2 billion.
So what can we do to thwart the thieves? First off, never list the birthdate, mother's maiden name, or other personal information in obituaries. Secondly, send a certified copy, return receipt requested, of the death certificate to each of the three credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, and ask each to place a "Deceased Alert" on the credit reports. Also mail death certificates to any bank, mortgage company, insurer, credit card company, and so forth and state you are immediately closing these accounts. Have each account flagged with "Closed: Account Holder is Deceased." Call Social Security at 800-772-1213 to report the death. Additionally, contact the DMV to cancel the driver's license to prevent scammed duplicates from being issued.
After a few weeks, go to www.annualcreditreport.com to see if there has been any suspicious activity on two of the three. Do the same after several months and check the third credit reporting agency.
Go online to www.idtheftccenter.org and type "deceased" in the search box for further information.
Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears every Saturday. Email her at consumer watch@timesfree press.com.