5 Steps to Protect a Decedent’s Identity

Who would have thought that you have to protect your identity, even after you are dead!?  It’s true.  Identity thieves thrive on reincarnating deceased people.  After all, who is going to complain?  Identities of deceased individuals are used to apply for credit, tax refunds, and obtain jobs.  Black market sales of social security numbers that belonged to the departed are a valuable commodity to those who are trying to not get deported.

These are the five steps you should take if you have recently lost a loved one:

  1. Limit personal information contained in the obituary. Consider omitting the date of birth, place of birth, address, and name of the last employer.
  2. Send death certificates to the three main credit reporting agencies.
  3. Report the death to government agencies:

Social Security Administration at (800) 772-1213

Internal Revenue Service at (800) 829-1040

Iowa Department of Motor Vehicles at (515) 237-3056

  1. About a month after death, check the decedent’s credit report at annualcreditreport.com to look for any suspicious activity.
  2. As you go through your loved one’s files and paperwork, do not put them in the trash or recycle bin without shredding them first. Several companies offer onsite shredding.  The cost of shredding is minimal and can be paid for from the estate.

What can you do to protect your identity before you die? Consider having a revocable trust, rather than a will, to administer your estate. (You can do this whether you have children or not.)  Iowa law still requires that the probate inventory is filed as a public record.  By having a revocable trust, you maintain control of all of your assets until you die; but your privacy is protected, since no inventory filing is required.  Also, regularly (at least once every 3 years) purge your file cabinet of outdated material.  The following items should be shredded, rather than tossed in the recycle bin:  insurance policies, banks statements; receipts for large purchases that you no longer own, tax returns more than 10 years old, photo copies of driver’s license and/or social security cards you made for whatever reason, outdated employee identification badges, expired credit cards, outdated student I.D.s, insurance company explanation of benefits, expired driver’s license and vehicle registrations, and anything else that contains an account number, your birthday, or any part of your social security number… even just those last four digits, which are often used to prove identity.