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Identity theft seems to be the new crime of the century, and 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.[1] Thieves are able to get the name of your loved one, the county in which they passed away, and the names of their family members. This makes it easy for the criminal to look up the court record of the decedent.

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 (regardless of whether the estate was probated), Pennsylvania Inventory, and an Accounting, account numbers and financial institutions also become public record.

Here are some important measures to take when your loved one passes away to help protect your loved one from identity theft.

  1. Notify the Social Security Administration of your loved one’s passing.
  2. 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.[2]
  3. Request a copy of your loved one’s credit report and call all credit card companies 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.[3]
  4. Cut up credit cards.
  5. When cleaning out old documents, make sure that you properly dispose of sensitive information by shredding it.[4]

[1] John Sileo, 5 Steps to Stop Identity Theft of a Deceased Family Member, at http://www.sileo.com/5-steps-to-stop-identity-theft-of-a-deceased-family-member/ (last visited Feb. 21, 2011).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, Preventative Measures – Checklist, available at http://www.attorneygeneral.gov/idtheft.aspx?id=1814 (last visited Feb. 21, 2011).

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