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Your family member passes away and soon after bank accounts and credit cards have been opened in their name. No it’s not the plot of a scary movie. Unfortunately, it’s a very scary reality.

A study by ID Analytics, a fraud prevention firm, found that 2.5 million deceased Americans’ identities are used improperly each year and a recent audit of the Social Security Administration found that almost 67,000 people filed taxes between 2006 and 2011 using the social security number of someone born before 1901.

In the days following a loved one’s death, consumers should take the following steps to help prevent the deceased’s identity from being used:

  • Limit the amount of personal information included in the obituary. It’s tempting to include information such as their mother’s maiden name, their address, or even their beloved pet’s name. However, this information can all be used by identity thieves.
  • Obtain multiple copies of the original death certificate. You may need proof of death and a photocopy may not be accepted.
  • Notify the Social Security Administration and the IRS. The Social Security Administration maintains the Master Death File which is used by banks, credit agencies and others to try to prevent identity theft after someone dies. It’s important to remember, however, that the list is public and easily accessible. Consumers should still perform their own notifications to ensure the death is recorded in a timely manner.
  • Notify, in writing and by certified mail, the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) and ask them to list all accounts as “Closed. Account Holder is Deceased.” You should also request a credit report to obtain a list of all creditors and to review recent credit activities.
  • Close any bank accounts in the deceased’s name. If the account is a joint account, have your bank remove the deceased’s name from the account. Notify any credit card companies as well. Be sure to request that they list the account holder is deceased as the reason for cancellation.

Be sure to ask each organization what their exact procedures are. Some may require additional proof of death or proof of your relationship to the deceased.  In some cases, the funeral home may notify government agencies on your behalf.  Consult with the funeral director as to their process.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s  Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for all Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s Lemon Laws, data breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Program and the state’s Do Not Call Registry.

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