Deceased Identity Theft – Victimizing the Dead

Deceased Identity Theft is on the rise. Identity thieves will go to great lengths to steal personal information. But how low are they willing to go? They will steal information from the recently deceased.

Assuming the Identity of a Deceased Person Can be a Profitable Venture

Victimizing the dead by stealing their identity is often referred to as ‘Ghosting’. Understand that Identity Theft happens in a variety of ways – including Tax ID Theft, Medical ID Theft, Financial ID Theft and Employment Fraud. Ghosting can encompass any or all of these different types of ID theft.

Deceased Identity Theft
You Must Protect Your Loved Ones

Here are some examples of what these criminals can do with the information stolen from a recently deceased person. File phony tax returns, apply for loans, establish fraudulent credit accounts, create fake driver’s licenses, apply for employment and file false medical claims. Ghosting can also result in creditors coming after the heirs of a deceased loved one or create problems with their estate.

How Do Thieves Get the Information?

Identity Thieves often glean a deceased person’s information from the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File. The Social Security Administration (SSA) maintains a national file of reported deaths for the purpose of paying appropriate benefits. The Death Master File contains the following information: Social Security number, name, date of birth, date of death, State of last known residence, and zip code of last lump sum payment. This information is a virtual gold mine for an identity thief!

In addition, relatives and funeral directors also notify States of recent deaths and then the States notify the SSA. When the SSA receives a death notice, it will flag the deceased person’s Social Security number as “inactive.”

Keep in mind that thieves can also glean a deceased person’s information from hospitals, funeral homes, social media and obituaries.  Because it can take weeks or months to process a death, thieves have plenty of time to commit fraud before it is ever detected.

Signs of Deceased Identity Theft

Calls from a creditor or collection agency on an account opened or used in the deceased’s name after death. If you discover such signs, contact the affected creditor or collection agency in writing, explaining that the account was opened or used fraudulently. Surviving spouses and children can also be liable if they shared accounts with the deceased.

Deceased Identity Theft Stolen Info
Freeze Out the Thieves

Reduce the Risk of Deceased Identity Theft:  

  • Send copies of the death certificate to all three credit bureaus asking them to flag the person’s credit report with the following alert: “Deceased – Do Not Issue Credit”.
  • Request a copy of the credit report of the deceased person with all three credit bureaus. You’ll need to do this in writing. The report will list all active credit accounts. Be on the lookout for any questionable activity.
  • Place a credit freeze with each of the three credit bureaus to stop thieves from opening any new credit accounts in the name of the deceased.
  • Send the IRS a copy of the death certificate to prevent Tax ID Theft. The IRS will then flag the account to reflect that the person is now deceased. Go to irs.gov and enter “Deceased Taxpayers” in the search box.
  • Notify banks, credit card companies, loan holders, financial institutions and mortgage holders to close any accounts. Also notify medical professionals and health insurers too.
  • Notify the Motor Vehicle Department to take their Driver’s License out of circulation.
  • Avoid putting too much information in an obituary. Don’t give a birth date, current address, mother’s maiden name or other identifying information that could be useful to identity thieves. The same goes for social media.

It is devastating for a grieving family to have to go through the process of proving to various agencies that their loved one is indeed dead. The emotional impact of unwinding the mess, stalls the grieving process for the family. Therefore, once a loved ones passes away, it’s important to designate someone to take immediate action to help secure their personal information from these heinous criminals.

If you want to know more about how to place a credit freeze, read this

SYNTHETIC IDENTITY THEFT

According to the Federal Trade Commission, 80 to 85% of all identity fraud stems from Synthetic Identity Theft. Fictitious identities are created when an Identity thief creates a fresh new identity using elements of valid and/or fabricated forms of personal information.

As an example – a thief with a stolen valid Social Security number will combine it with a fake name, address and date of birth to create a brand new identity.  Because a valid Social Security # is used, there is no actual victim or true identity behind this false combination of identity elements.

Synthetic Identity Theft

 

Once Created – The Mischief Begins!

The merger of this real and fake personal data is then used to commit criminal, medical or financial fraud. Once an ID thief creates a new synthetic identity, they will attempt to apply for loans, credit or a job; get medical services, obtain cellphone service or even use the synthetic ID if they get arrested.

Remember that this newly created identity still contains your social security # as the main component and source of reference. Therefore, it becomes part of a fragmented or sub-file to your main credit file.

Additionally, fraud alerts, credit freezes and credit monitoring services will not indicate that anything is amiss. These usual protective measures do not stop Synthetic Identity Theft.

Unfortunately, the massive Equifax data breach, reported in September of 2017, exposed the valid social security numbers of nearly 148 million Americans. Realize also that those stolen social security numbers have already been purchased by criminals on the dark web – in underground black markets. Unfortunately, you cannot change your social security number!

 

What are Banks and Credit Card Companies Doing to Combat This?

Financial institutions understand the need to use any and all tools available to stop synthetic identity theft. They’re using advanced analytics, device intelligence and monitoring of underground websites. Credit Bureaus utilize tools that are able to detect when identity elements appear to be used inconsistently. They have developed analytical scores that help them determine whether a Social security # and identity belong to the right person.

A new federal law should also make it easier for creditors to verify ownership of a Social Security # with the Social Security Administration – which should help them verify that credit applicants actually exist.

 

THERE’S NO SILVER BULLET – BUT THESE STEPS MAY HELP

  • Only use an identity theft monitoring service that includes dark web monitoring. The service will check for personal identity elements, such as a SSN, that may have been exposed in a recent data breach.
  • It’s still worth placing a credit freeze with all three of the credit bureaus. Credit Freezes are now FREE in all 50 States as of September, 2018. Here’s is a previous article of mine explaining how to place a freeze
  • Get your free credit report at annualcreditreport.com from one of the three credit bureaus and check to see that there hasn’t been any unauthorized accounts opened.
  • A child’s SSN is often used to create Synthetic ID Theft. So, be sure to also place a credit freeze for your minor children as well.
  • National databases hold the key to discovery of Synthetic ID Theft. The DMV, insurance companies, data brokers, employers, prison or police records may all contain synthetic identities that include your social security number. Use a credit monitoring service that checks national databases.

 

Synthetic identity theft is a complicated and growing problem because it’s hard to detect and prevent this type of fraud. Once these synthetic identities are created, they become ‘verifiable’ identities and can therefore pass traditional security checks.

Unfortunately, it’s going to be up to you to be ever diligent if you want to protect yourself in the age of rampant fraud and deception.

FREE CREDIT FREEZES COMING SOON!

FREE CREDIT FREEZES – Coming Soon!

Thanks to a newly enacted bill, sometime in September, consumers can take advantage of Free Credit Freezes. Because a credit freeze needs to be placed with each one of the three credit bureaus, the new law will help save consumers some money.

Free Credit Freezes
Freeze Your Credit Files ASAP!

The legislation was added as part of the Dodd-Frank bank deregulation bill, passed by Congress earlier this year. The law allows consumers to either place, lift or remove a credit freeze absolutely free of charge.

Before this new law, depending on which State you lived in, consumers had to pay between $2 and $10 to place a freeze. The only way a consumer could get a no-cost credit freeze was if they could prove they were a victim of identity theft.

Brought On By Equifax Breach

Following the Equifax data breach, the advice given by most experts was to place a separate credit freeze with all three of the credit bureaus. You may recall, the Equifax breach exposed the personal data of 148 million Americans. Because social security numbers were exposed in that breach, placing a credit freeze was a consumer’s first line of defense. A credit freeze protects a victim’s credit account by virtually locking access to it. This prevents crooks from applying for credit, using your stolen social security number.

Companies would never approve a loan or a credit card application unless they are able to do a credit check – to see if you are creditworthy. Once a freeze is in place, companies are prevented from checking or viewing your credit file. Therefore, placing a credit freeze protects a consumer from criminals trying to get credit in their good name. Keep in mind that if you yourself wants to apply for credit, you will need to temporarily lift your credit freeze, so that the lender can gain access to your credit file.

NOTE: There’s a difference between a credit “Lock” and a Credit “Freeze”!

Equifax has been offering free credit “Locks” for life as part of its response to their massive data breach. But consumers should be aware that credit “Locks” are NOT the same thing as placing a credit freeze. Credit Locks don’t offer the same consumer protections. They are virtually just an agreement between you and Equifax that can be subject to changes down the line.

Trans Union and Experian also offer their own versions of credit “Locks”. Warning: there are fees involved! Anna Laitin, the director of financial policy with Consumer’s Union recommends freezes rather than credit locks because the rules for credit freezes are established by law. “Consumers will know what they’re getting with a freeze”, she said.

~ See an article I wrote about Credit Locks vs Credit Freezes

CHILD ID THEFT

Children have become a prime target of identity thieves. A million American children became victims of identity theft last year at a cost of 2.6 billion dollars in total losses to the families. Once a thief is able to get identifying information on a child, such as the child’s Social Security number, they can open a credit report on behalf of the child and obtain credit in the child’s name. Fortunately, a provision in the new law also allows for parents or guardians of children under age 16, to set up a credit report and then freeze it at no cost.

What about Fraud Alerts?

Another benefit of the new law also extends the time limit on fraud alerts.  A fraud alert is usually placed to notify the credit bureaus if a consumer suspects they might be a victim of identity theft.  Fraud alerts require businesses to verify an application for credit before giving approval. Originally, a fraud alert was only good for 90 days and had to be renewed again every 90 days for the alert to remain on a consumer’s credit file. The time limit has now been extended from 90 days to a full year.

So, if you haven’t already placed a credit freeze, once September rolls around, you may want to take the advice of experts and place one for FREE!

Please read a previous article of mine if you want to learn more about How to Place a Credit Freeze.

IDENTITY THEFT COMES IN MANY FORMS

Every two seconds someone becomes a victim of identity theft! That equates to over a million people a month and over $16 billion annually. No one, dead or alive, is immune to identity theft. It’s no longer a matter of IF, but WHEN.  Identity Theft is so commonplace, that it is now referred to as “The Crime of the Century”!

Identity Theft

So what is identity theft?  It is a crime, in which the criminal obtains key pieces of ‘personally identifying information’ (PII), such as your social security number, birthdate or driver’s license, and impersonates you. The US Department of Justice defines it this way: “Identity Theft and Identity Fraud are terms used to refer to all types of crimes in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain”.

When your identity is stolen, you not only lose your money, but also your good name. It is a very stressful process to repair the damage done and it can take many months or even years to remedy the lingering effects of identity theft.

There has been a flood of data breaches, resulting in millions upon millions of personally identifiable information (PII) stolen and then sold to the highest bidder on underground websites.  Malware and Ransomware extorts $1billion a year from people and businesses worldwide. The internet has become a perilous place.

YOU SHOULD KNOW THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF IDENTITY THEFT

Medical Identity Theft is when your medical insurance ID is used to get medical services in your name. Your medical records get contaminated with incorrect health information and you get hit with the bill. Guard your insurance number.

Tax Identity Theft is when someone uses your SS# and files a fraudulent return to get a big refund. File your taxes as early as possible to avoid this problem.

Criminal Identity Theft is when your identifying information is given to the police during an arrest. It attaches a criminal’s crime to a police record in your name.

Child Identity Theft is when the Social Security numbers of children are used to create a false identity to establish a new credit history. Kids under 18 are 51 times more likely to become victims of ID theft. Parents should place a credit freeze on their kid’s credit file.

Deceased Identity Theft, referred to as “Ghosting”, is when the stolen identity of the recently deceased is used to open lines of credit, get a loan, or get a job or file a fraudulent tax return.

If you wish to decrease your chances of becoming a victim, then prevention, intuition and education are your tools. You need to think of your identity as an asset to be protected, as you would protect your cash, jewelry and other valuables.

My mission is to help bring awareness to this very serious problem. ID theft affects businesses worldwide and affects people young and old. It is my intention to help you lessen the chances of becoming the next victim. My blog sets out to do just that.

Remember, knowledge is power & awareness is your weapon!

Identity Theft Prediction: It Worsens in 2018

My Identity Theft Prediction – It worsens in 2018 as fraudsters are getting even more adept and brazen than ever before!  Will consumers be smarter and more pro-active about protecting their identity in 2018?  I predict – NOT!

I sincerely hope your New Year’s Resolution list includes taking steps to protect  yourself from identity theft. If we learned anything at all in 2017, it’s the fact that it is imperative to do everything possible to safeguard our PII (Personally Identifiable Information).

Always treat your personal information as a valuable asset that needs to be protected from hackers, scammers and identity thieves.

Identity Theft Prediction
Guard your identity with everything you’ve got

ID theft comes in many forms, but data breaches topped the list last year. There were a total of 1293 data breaches as of 12/20/2017. The Equifax breach alone exposed the PII of 145.5 million U.S. Citizens! All the information in that one single data breach, gave Identity Thieves everything they needed to make you a victim of Identity Theft.

 

Thieves steal your personal information in a variety of ways:

 

  • FIRST – They steal your PII – Personally Identifiable Information
    • Mail, Trash, Un-shredded Documents
    • Redirect your mail – by submitting a Change of Address
    • Phishing – emails, phone, texts, websites, popups, fake Ads, surveys
    • Employee Records – Stolen or Compromised at work
    • Data Breaches – PII stolen or purchased from Underground Websites
    • Relatives, friends, caregivers who have/gain access to your info
  • THEN – They use your PII to…
    • Use your PII to apply for Credit Cards, Loans, Utilities, Phone Services
    • Counterfeit – Checks, Driver’s License, Passports, fake Credit Cards
    • Use your SS # to File Tax Returns or Get a Job
    • Use your ID during an Arrest
    • Impersonate you for purposes of account takeover

 

HERE’S A LIST OF THINGS TO DO TO HELP PREVENT ID THEFT:

  • Always wait 24 hours before making important decisions
  • Shred it! Never discard items with personal info on it
  • Never click on links or open attachments in emails/texts
  • Use EMV chipped cards for better security
  • Use unique passwords on online accounts
  • Use a Uni-Ball pen #207 when writing checks
  • Only place bills in secure mailboxes
  • Examine bills for any discrepancies
  • Reconcile checking accounts promptly
  • Never provide your SS# or Medical ID # unless required to do so
  • Make copies of everything you carry in your wallet
  • Use strong passwords on your wireless connection
  • Use a low balance prepaid card for recurring charges
  • Do an internet search by adding “Scam”, “Fraud”, or “Complaint” after a company name or product
  • Don’t send $ via untraceable methods like bank wires, or prepaid cards

 

Remember: When it sounds “too good to be true” – it probably is…

To learn even more – go to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/identity-theft

Also read a previous article about the Equifax Breach

I hope my Identity Theft Prediction is wrong…

Stay safe out there and I wish you a wonderful New Year!

 

EQUIFAX BREACH EXTREMELY DAMAGING

Why is the Equifax breach extremely damaging? Because the typical information required to prove your identity is now in the hands of the bad guys!

YOU CANNOT HIDE YOUR HEAD IN THE SAND AND THINK YOU’LL BE IMMUNE! 

An identity thief will go to great lengths to dig up your personal identifying information (PII) so they can impersonate you and then commit ID theft. This Equifax breach has already completed that part of the job for them.

Remember that 145.5 million Americans (over ½ the U.S. population) have had their PII stolen! Your information will likely be auctioned off on underground websites to opportunistic criminals, across the planet. Armed with your PII, a criminal can do a lot of damage to your identity, your good name and your financial records!

equifax breach extremely damaging
ARE YOU ANGRY YET??? YOU SHOULD BE!!!

How is the Equifax breach extremely damaging? Let’s count the ways… 

  1. Pretexting – Criminals will use your PII to convince your bank, credit card company, utility or phone service to make changes to your accounts. Your PII gives them the ability to change your email address, PINS, passwords, direct deposit info, phone # and home address. They’ll even change the answers to your secret questions – all in their quest to gain access to private information or to lock you out of your own
  2. Tax ID Theft: File fake tax returns to get large refunds.
  3. Credit Fraud: Open new lines of credit in your name (personal loans, auto loans, mortgages, new credit cards).
  4. Counterfeiting: Create fake ID’s like driver’s licenses, passports, insurance cards, etc.
  5. Criminal ID Theft: Use your ID to give to police if they get arrested.
  6. Medical ID Theft: Create medical insurance cards to get medical services or commit insurance fraud.
  7. Employment ID Theft: Use your PII to get a job and collect a paycheck.
  8. Financial ID Theft: Open bank accounts in your name and pass around bad checks.
  9. Malware/SPAM: Infect your devices with Malware by sending SPAM emails or texts, purported to be from Equifax. SPAM emails and texts are designed to lure you to click on links or open attachments that infect your devices and turn them into ‘bots’.
  10. Spoofing/Phishing: Imposter phone calls from Equifax employees or clickable links that lure you onto a fake Equifax website. Offers of free credit monitoring services or class action lawsuits, designed to phish for additional info, like your credit card number

YOU MUST LEARN WHAT TO DO TO PROTECT YOURSELF! YOU MUST BE PRO-ACTIVE AND EVER VIGILANT!  AND PLEASE – PASS IT ON…

READ MY PREVIOUS EQUIFAX BREACH ARTICLE TO LEARN WHAT YOU NEED TO DO.

 

MEDICARE CARD SCAMS

Finally, there is a new law that requires Medicare to start using a unique randomly assigned 11 digit ID number on their cards and begin phasing out the use of social security numbers. Medicare Card Scams will be in full swing. Be aware that Scammers, of course, are already taking advantage of the confusion about this transition to the new numbers. Scam Warning Sign

Scammers are now beginning to call Medicare recipients, posing as Medicare employees and telling them they’re required to register over the phone, if they want to receive their new cards. Recipients are told that they will lose their benefits if they don’t register. The caller then asks for their medical ID number, which the scammer knows full well, is the recipient’s social security number. Once the scammer is given the social security number, the recipient will likely become a victim of identity theft.

In another variation of this scam, intended victims are told that they need to pay a fee for the new card and are asked to pay for it with a credit card or pay by giving the caller their checking account number.

The truth is that is there is nothing you need to do to receive your new card with the new number. You will not need to register or pay for the new cards. So anyone telling you that this is a requirement is a fraudster. Do not provide your ID number, bank account or credit card to anyone who calls you claiming to be from Medicare!

So be on the lookout for Medicare Imposters calling or emailing you about the new cards. Employees from the Centers for Medicare, do NOT contact you in this way.