With the recent security breach of Equifax, many Americans are thinking seriously about preventing identity theft. You may have taken steps to freeze your own credit or obtain copies of your credit report to make sure all is in order.
Protecting your own identity and credit is important, of course, but you may not have given as much thought to preventing identity theft from your loved ones, particularly those who wouldn't seem to have much of a financial life: deceased relatives and small children.
Of course, as they say, "you can't take it with you," so you might think your late mother might not have anything of value to offer thieves. And your two year old son—well, that kid hasn't worked a day in his life! What could he have that someone would want to steal?
The answer, in both cases, is their identities. Here are some steps you can take to prevent identity theft from deceased relatives as well as very young ones.
Like modern day grave robbers, identity thieves target the one thing of value almost all deceased individuals have: their Social Security Number (SSN). Using the SSN of a deceased person, a thief can obtain credit and profit from the good financial history of your departed relative.
Think this is an unlikely scenario? Think again. The dead don't monitor their credit, of course, allowing thieves to operate undetected for extended periods. One fraud prevention firm estimates that identity thieves steal the identity of at least 2 million deceased Americans every year. Here are some tips to help you stop this from happening to your departed loved one.
You should begin to take action as soon as your loved one passes away. When writing the obituary, avoid giving unnecessary information that can be seized upon by thieves to open accounts, such as date and place of birth, mother's maiden name, and current address.
To prevent identity theft of a deceased person's Social Security Number, you should begin to take action as soon as your loved one passes away.
Next, contact the three major credit agencies: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. It may otherwise take months before they are notified of a death. Send them the documentation they will need to act: a copy of the death certificate, and certification that you are authorized, as the deceased's personal representative, to act on their behalf. Provide all relevant information, including the deceased's name, SSN, dates of birth and death, and most recent address. Ask that an alert be placed on the deceased's credit files, indicating that they are deceased and that credit should not be issued to someone purporting to be them.
Also, contact all financial institutions at which the deceased had accounts, such as banks, brokerages, credit card companies, and insurance companies to notify them of the death. Send death certificates to each institution. If your deceased loved one had a driver's license, make sure it is canceled with the Secretary of State or Department of Motor Vehicles in your state, with a notation that the holder is now deceased.
Last but not least, continue to monitor credit reports for your deceased loved one for at least a year after their death. As personal representative of their estate, you should be able to access these reports without charge.
Whereas once, people often didn't apply for a SSN until they were old enough to look for work as teens, most people now have them assigned as infants. They may be used to identify kids on tax returns or open accounts to save for their college educations. They might be required by insurers or schools. But by and large, these incredibly important pieces of identification lie dormant for a decade or more of your child's life.
You're probably not thinking about your child's pristine credit history during that time—but someone is: identity thieves. If they can obtain your child's SSN, they can use it to open accounts, acquire credit, and leave a mass of debt in their wake. By the time your child needs to apply for college, loans, or work, that sparkling credit history has been sullied beyond recognition.
The best solution is to diligently monitor your child's credit on an annual basis, along with your own. You may also wish to investigate whether your homeowners' insurance allows you to obtain coverage for identity theft. Nothing can provide a perfect guarantee against identity theft, but knowledge, and being proactive, is power.
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