Identity Theft from a Deceased Person

What is it?

Theft that targets a deceased person identity, also called “Ghosting”, is the criminal act of someone using the personal details of the person for their own unlawful gain, usually financial.

It occurs when a deceased’s personal identifiable information is stolen to commit fraudulent acts such as:

  • tax payer ID theft
  • account takeover
  • medical ID/services theft
  • driver’s licence theft
  • apply for new credit cards and loans,
  • secure employment
  • home utility or telecom services

The deceased are targeted, because these thefts are less likely to be identified early and stopped; therefore it is imperative the right steps are taken to ensure all aspects of a deceased’s identity are handled in the proper manner.

How does it occur?

Primarily in two ways.

Firstly via the letter box. Typically a deceased person gets 110 pieces of direct mail in the first 12 months following their death. Criminals identify recently deceased and then target deceased’s homes that more often than not are empty. They then steal the direct mail pieces left in the unattended letterboxes so as to start the fraud process. And as direct mail is not often regarded as a valuable item worthy of as theft, it goes unnoticed until credit card bills start appearing out of the blue.

Secondly, via online. In today’s social media driven world, people are inadvertently posting more and more personal information online. Be this Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, leaving an ever growing online presence. As such, it is much easier to find out ones personal information such as date of birth, email and home address etc. Criminals are trawling these sites to lift these pieces of information and then build a picture of the deceased so as to be able to impersonate them and implement the fraud.

How often does it occur?

According to the fraud prevention service Cifas, there were 172,919 incidents of identity fraud in 2016, of which 88% occurred online. Putting an exact monetary value is difficult but as you can imagine it runs into the millions.

The ordeal of cleaning the subsequent mess can be emotional and very time consuming. Unravelling the tangle of the fraud can take months of calling, investigation and paperwork. But with a little planning, it can be mitigated at the start.

Ways to prevent it:

Upon someone’s passing, action must be taken to inform the various entities to update their records and prevent leaving them open to theft. These we categorise as the following:

Government: The relevant departments need to be informed of the persons passing so their records can be updated. These records are used by many entities outside government as the master so having these updated at source can help the change in status trickle down to the external ones. Departments include Social Welfare, DVLA, Local Council, Passport and National Insurance.

Companies: The entities that had a relationship with the deceased need to be informed. This will require research, leg work, lots of calls and then all documented in writing.

The list of companies will vary from person to person but will include some of the following: banks, credit card companies, pensions, telephone companies, TV/Satellite, mobile phones, insurance, gym, breakdown services, electricity, gas etc.

Online: Again will differ from person to person, but will include the some of the following:

  • Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat etc
  • Email: Gmail, yahoo, Outlook etc
  • Storage: Personal files saved to the following: Dropbox, Onedrive, Google Drive etc
  • App stores: Apple itunes and Android.
  • Stores: Amazon and the supermarkets being most popular.

Direct Mail: This one is perhaps most key and requires the input of the Stop Mail. This will function to get the person taken off the lists from the different marketing agencies so as to stop send material in the post.

One extra step here would be to make sure that the letter box of any unattended property is regularly checked and if necessary, a postal redirect at the local post office.

We hope the above has given you an better understanding of why it is important to properly wrap up the affairs of those who have passed in order to prevent potential identity fraud. In our experience, the work involved can be time consuming but not as much as trying to unravel the fallout of a criminal running amok.