The Attorney General provides Consumer Alerts to inform the public of unfair, misleading, or deceptive business practices, and to provide information and guidance on other issues of concern. Consumer alerts are not legal advice, legal authority, or a binding legal opinion from the Department of Attorney General.
There is no greater tragedy than the loss of a loved one. This time can be emotionally draining – between making arrangements and grieving, most people cannot bring themselves to contemplate that their deceased loved one can be used as a lucrative source of information for crooks. The last thing family members and friends should have to deal with while mourning the loss of a loved one is repairing damage done by an identity thief stealing and using their loved one's financial information to drain an estate of all of its assets. This consumer alert provides steps that family members and executors can take to protect the personal financial information of deceased individuals.
Criminals gather information about deceased individuals in a number of ways – from watching obituaries and performing internet searches to more elaborate schemes. For example, in Louisiana, three people were arrested for stealing the identities of more than 100 deceased individuals. One of the alleged perpetrators worked in a hospital emergency room and would send text messages containing the personal identifying information of dying patients to her grown son. Her son and his wife would then apply for credit cards using the deceased's information. The alleged perpetrators would also look in the obituaries for information and then use the hospital's database to research information on the deceased. The recently deceased were apparently targeted because their names and information did not yet appear on lists sent to financial institutions notifying them of the deaths of consumers.
This is just one horrible example of how identity thieves can obtain and use personal information of deceased individuals.
The following tips to help prevent theft of a deceased individual's information were compiled from the Identity Theft Resource Center, a nonprofit organization headquartered in San Diego, California, and the AARP. Please note that friends, neighbors, or distant relatives do not have the same legal rights to access records of a deceased individual that a spouse or executor would have. The procedures for carrying out these steps may vary among financial institutions or government agencies, so be sure to inform the institution or agency of the nature of your relationship with the deceased individual and follow the procedures they outline for you.
Consumers may also contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at:Consumer Protection Division
For general consumer questions or to file a complaint, you may reach the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at:Consumer Protection Division