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Unfortunately, Wisconsin residents are not safe from identity theft – even after they die. Each year, fraudsters steal the identity of nearly 2.5 million deceased Americans according to the fraud prevention firm ID Analytics. They use the information to open credit card accounts, apply for loans and file fraudulent tax returns.
How do the thieves get their information? One way is by reading obituaries, which often contain home address, birth date and mother’s maiden name. With this information they can illegally purchase the person’s social security number on the Internet.
It’s important, therefore, to protect the identity of your deceased loved one. These tips can help:
• In the obituary, list age but not birth date, mother’s maiden name or street address. Omitting the address will also reduce the likelihood of a home burglary during the funeral.
• Using certified mail with “return receipt,” send copies of the death certificate to each credit reporting bureau-Equifax, Experian and TransUnion-asking them to place a “deceased alert” on the credit report.
• A few weeks later, check the deceased’s credit report for suspicious activity. You can get one free report from each credit bureau at www.annualcreditreport.com. Several months later, request a report from one of the other reporting bureaus.
• Report the death to Social Security as soon as possible.
• Contact banks, investment companies, mortgage companies and insurers and ask them to mark the account “closed due to death.” For joint accounts, remove the deceased’s name.
• Cancel the driver’s license to avoid a duplicate being issued to fraudsters.
• Surviving family members aren’t responsible for charges made in a deceased loved one’s name (if their names are not on the account). But that is a small consolation for the emotional trauma that being a victim of identity theft can add at an already stressful time.
For more information on current frauds and scams, visit the Wisconsin Senior Medicare Patrol’s website at www.wisconsinsmp.org.