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

DARK WEB MONITORING

Dark Web Monitoring – Is It Worth The Cost?

Consumers are coughing up anywhere from $10 to $30 per month for identity theft protection. Credit monitoring companies usually include dark web monitoring to their list of services. But is dark web monitoring really worth its salt? Consumers are under the false assumption that they can rely on these credit monitoring companies to keep them protected. THEY CAN’T!

Results of a recent survey by Consumer Federation of America (CFA)

~ 36% of those who’d seen ads for dark web monitoring incorrectly believed identity theft services can remove their personal info from the dark web.

~ 37% mistakenly believe dark web monitoring services will prevent stolen information, sold on the dark web, from being used.

Dark Web Monitoring

What is the Dark Web?

It is the go-to place on the internet where criminals buy and sell stolen personal information. Well known, commonly used internet browsers such as Google Chrome, Firefox or Mozilla won’t get you there. You need a special browser such as Tor. Most of this stolen information is gleaned from criminals that hack into compromised businesses and personal computers. Here’s what these nefarious actors are after: social security numbers, credit card info, usernames & passwords, bank account info, medical info, birth dates, email addresses, names, addresses, phone numbers, etc., etc.

REALITY CHECK!

No one can erase any of the stolen data that ends up on the dark web. No one can prevent your stolen data from being sold or used. Therefore, credit monitoring companies are only able to ‘alert’ you (after the fact) once they discover that your personal info is up for sale on the dark web.

If you’re wondering whether or not your personal info is on the dark web, the answer is YES, of course it is. You don’t need to pay a credit monitoring service to learn that! Hackers stole nearly a half a billion records in 2018 alone!

The Equifax data breach exposed the social security numbers, birth dates and other personal info of 148 million Americans. About 6.4 million records are reported stolen every day. If you’re still not convinced, and want to see the raw data, go here for real time data breach statistics.

Odds are very high that your info has already been bought and sold to numerous criminals on the dark web. You can’t change your social security number or date of birth. With so much of everyone’s info already compromised, individuals must do everything they can to make it more difficult for criminals to use that stolen data.

Does Dark Web Monitoring Have Any Value?

Security experts say dark web monitoring is just a scare tactic used by credit monitoring companies. Fear of the unknown motivates people. Neal O’Farrell, executive director of the Identity Theft Council  says it’s all really “just a smoke and mirrors deal” created by credit monitoring services to justify the monthly fee. O’Farrell states “They keep adding on these extra services that are truly valueless and don’t go to the cause of the problem”.

6 Important Things To Protect Yourself

1.) Check your credit report regularly with all 3 credit bureaus. By law you are entitled to a free annual report from Equifax, Trans Union and Experian. All three companies must provide a free credit report to you, upon request. So, NO EXCUSES – It’s FREE!  Stagger your requests throughout the year by requesting one credit report from one company, three different months during the year.

2.) Place a “Freeze” on your credit file with all three credit bureaus. There is no cost to freeze your credit. So, again, no excuses! Placing a credit freeze prevents a fraudster from obtaining credit in your name. A credit freeze is much more secure than the credit monitoring packages being sold by the credit bureaus and other credit monitoring companies such as LifeLock. Also, don’t let the credit bureaus try to talk you into placing a “Credit Lock” instead of a Credit Freeze”. Credit Locks do not have the same consumer protections that a Credit Freeze provides.

3.) Use two-factor authentication as a secondary firewall to prevent criminals from impersonating you. Also referred to as “2FA” – Two-Factor Authentication is an extra layer of security that requires not only a username and password, but also something that the user has on them like an email address or a cellphone that a code can be sent to. This proves that you are who you claim to be before you can obtain full access to your account.

4.) Use stealth and long passwords (at least 12 or more characters) that are hard to crack. The best passwords are phrases mixed in with symbols, numbers and upper & lower case letters. Don’t use obvious things like, mother’s maiden name, birth dates, addresses, phone numbers or any info that can be gleaned from your social media account. NEVER use the same password for other log-ins. Why? If your password is compromised, a criminal will try using that password to log-in to other websites, like banks, PayPal, Amazon and other commonly frequented websites. Also, be sure to change passwords every so often, especially if you learn of a data breach that affects a website or an account you have with a company.

5.) Monitor your accounts whenever your bank and credit card statements arrive. Be sure to also check your Explanation of Benefits for medical services. Correct any errors you find and report any discrepancies.

6.) Keep your software updated and back up your data. Whenever there is an update available for your software programs, be sure to follow through and perform a timely update. Better yet, set your programs to update automatically. Make a habit of backing up your important files on a regular basis. Back up all files that you wouldn’t want to lose if your computer ever crashed.

There’s no 100% guarantee that following these steps will fully protect you from becoming a victim of identity theft, but it will certainly lower your chances.  Awareness and constant vigilance is paramount in this game of cat and mouse.

You can read a prior article I wrote about Credit Freezes here

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.

DETER TAX ID THEFT- FILE TAXES EARLY

Tax ID Theft is the most common form of identity theft reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for the past five years. The FTC and its partners announced they are hosting a Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week from January 29th to February 2, 2018. They will be hosting a series of free events, including webinars and Twitter chats.

Tax ID theft occurs when someone uses your stolen Social Security number to file a fraudulent tax return in order to claim a fraudulent refund.

There has been 1293 data breaches as of 12/20/17. These data breaches provide hackers with a slew of sensitive information. The Equifax breach alone exposed the names, addresses, social security numbers and birthdates of 145.5 million records. Criminals will attempt to file fraudulent tax returns using this stolen information. The big refunds that are claimed on these fraudulent returns are either sent to phony addresses or deposited into bogus bank accounts controlled by these criminals.

Tax ID Theft
IRS Tax ID Theft is Billions of Dollars a year!

The best thing you can do to protect yourself from Tax ID Theft is to file your return as early as possible to make sure your return is filed prior to that of an identity thief.  That way, you beat a would-be criminal from filing a return before you do.

 

PREVENTION TIPS TO AVOID TAX ID THEFT

  • Know your Tax Preparer – check their credentials on the IRS website
  • Beware of Preparers promising big refunds or base their fee on your refund
  • If you cannot file early, then file an extension using IRS Form 4868
  • Never carry your social security card or any document with your SSN on it
  • If mailing your return, be sure to mail it directly from the Post Office
  • If E-Filing your return, use a reputable program and a secure non-public computer
  • If you move, file a Change of Address as soon as possible – Use IRS Form-8822
  • Store copies of your returns in a secure place or save it on an external hard drive
  • Shred drafts, tax forms and all documents that contain any sensitive information
  • NEVER respond to calls, texts or emails appearing to be from the IRS. Don’t respond to threats or arrest. The IRS always initiates contact with you via a letter, sent by snail mail.

 

If you do become a victim of tax ID theft, file a police report immediately. Then, file a “paper” return with the IRS with an attached Form 14039 Identity Theft Affidavit together with a copy of the police report. This will hasten the process. You should also call the IRS specialized assistant toll-free number 800-908-4490. You can visit the IRS website for more info here: www.irs.gov/Individuals/Identity-Protection

To find out how to lessen your risk of becoming a Tax ID Theft victim during the FTC’s Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week – go here:   https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0029-tax-identity-theft-awareness-week