Identity Theft: Deceased Victims

CONSUMER ALERT

DANA NESSEL
ATTORNEY GENERAL

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. 

Identity Theft: Deceased Victims 

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.

How can this happen?

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.

How can I prevent this?

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.

  • Limit the amount of information placed in obituaries. Do not include information such as the date of birth, place of birth, or address of the deceased individual.
  • Obtain at least 12 copies of the official death certificate when this becomes available. Some creditors or credit reporting agencies will require an official death certificate in order to update their records. It may be easier to order several copies of an official death certificate early on, rather than ordering a copy only if problems pop up in the future.
  • Immediately notify all credit card companies, banks, insurance companies, or other financial institutions where the deceased held accounts. If you decide to close any accounts, make sure the financial institution lists "Closed: Account Holder is Deceased" as the reason for closure.
  • Immediately contact the three major credit reporting agencies in writing, certified mail, return receipt requested, to place a "deceased" alert on the individual's credit report.
  • Immediately notify the Social Security Administration of the individual's death. To report a death to the Social Security Administration, please call 800-772-1213.
  • Notify the Michigan Secretary of State of the individual's death. In order to cancel the individual's driver's license number in the state's system, take a copy of the death certificate and the driver's license to your local Secretary of State's office. The county in which the individual died should also notify the Secretary of State of the individual's death, but reporting time varies by county. Therefore, to ensure the Michigan Secretary of State is notified immediately, you should consider notifying them of the death yourself.
  • If you are legally permitted to do so, monitor the deceased individual's credit reports regularly to make sure no fraudulent activity appears. If any fraudulent activity does appear, notify the creditors immediately, first by phone, then follow up in writing by certified mail, return receipt requested. You may be asked to provide a copy of the death certificate.

Where can I go for help?

Additional information on identity theft prevention and resolution for Michigan consumers is available on the Attorney General’s website.

Consumers may also contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at:

Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
517-373-1140
Fax: 517-241-3771
Toll free: 877-765-8388
Online complaint form

Contact the Attorney General’s Office:

For general consumer questions or to file a complaint, you may reach the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division at:

Consumer Protection Division
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909