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Identity Theft: Faking Out The Dead

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CEMETERY
The identities of nearly 2.5 million deceased Americans are reportedly misused each year. | David Lohr

Identity thieves are increasingly targeting dead people, according to a new warning from the firm ID Analytics.

Personal details of nearly 2.5 million deceased Americans are used every year to illegally apply for credit products and services, ID Analytics calculates in a study released Monday.

According to Stephen Coggeshall, chief technology officer at the San Diego-based company, the study compared the names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers on 100 million applications during the first three months of 2011, with data in the Social Security Administration's Death Master File.

"We found 800,000 cases a year of dead people's identities being used" intentionally, Coggeshall told The Huffington Post.

The study found that on another 1.6 million applications annually, an identity manipulator used the Social Security number of a deceased person inadvertently.

The morbid fraudsters typically find potential targets by perusing obituary notices or graveyards. The identities are targeted for misuse on applications for credit products and cellphone services.

The inadvertent use occurs when "someone is making up identities, dates of birth and Social Security numbers and just happens to use a Social Security number for someone who is dead," Coggeshall said.

The study also revealed several hundred thousand other misuses of dead people's identities are perpetrated each year.

All told, the study found that fraudsters use the identities of the deceased at a rate of more than 2,000 per day.

According to Coggeshall, it is important for people to monitor not only their own identities, but also those of their deceased family members for at least one year after the death.

The following tips are recommended to keep fraudsters from duping the dead:

  • Provide only limited personal information in the deceased's obituary, and avoid printing the individual's complete date of birth or address.
  • Promptly notify the Social Security Administration of a loved one's death at 800-772-1213.
  • Cancel the deceased's driver's license with the state's motor vehicles department.
  • Notify all entities with which the deceased had a financial relationship -- including banks, credit card companies and brokerage firms -- about his or her death.
  • Notify all three credit reporting bureaus of the death -- Equifax, TransUnion and Experian -- and mail them copies of the death certificate.
  • Use an identity theft protection service to help monitor any use of the deceased's identity.
ID Analytics also runs a free service to help determine if an identity is likely to be misused. "People can put in their information in myidscore.com and get a score that tells them how at risk they are," Coggeshall said.

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