What is ghosting?
Identity theft knows no bounds. The troublesome crime can affect newborns and children, adults of all ages, and even those who have passed away.
Ghosting is a term used to describe the abuse of a deceased individual's identity.
Approximately 2.5 million identities are stolen each year from deceased victims. Criminals will use this stolen identity to commit various acts of fraud, including applying for new credit cards, loans, tax refunds, and even jobs.
Ghosting causes anxiety and heartache for surviving family members, many of whom are still grieving after their loss. It is important to note, however, that while surviving family members often receive debt letters and calls as a result of the theft, they are ultimately not responsible for any accrued charges.
How do thieves get this information?
Most personally identifying information is printed in an obituary for all to see. Criminals scour obituaries to gain all the necessary information they need to commit future crimes, including:
- Birth name and married name
- Date of birth
- Mother's maiden name
- Nearest relatives
- Last place of employment
Thieves take this information and cheaply purchase the recently deceased's Social Security number from the Social Security Office's Death Master File. With that last piece of information, they can begin to commit fraud.
How do I protect myself and loved ones from ghosting?
There are steps you can take to prevent ghosting:
- Limit the amount of information published in an obituary
- Request copies of the death certificate as soon as they become available
- Send copies of the death certificate to credit reporting agencies, banks, insurance companies, investment firms, utility services, and other financial accounts
- When closing accounts, request the account be flagged as "Closed--Account holder is deceased."
- Report the death to Social Security
- Cancel the deceased's driver's license through your state's Department of Motor Vehicles, to ensure duplicates will not be issued
- Look for, and report, any errors in your loved one's credit report, which you should request a month or two after you've completed the steps above
If the crime has already occurred, contact local police immediately, and document all examples of the theft. Then follow the above outlined steps to prevent further difficulties.
Funded by a partnership with the Texas Legislature, and powered by the Center for Identity, IDWise is a resource center for the public on identity theft, fraud, and privacy.