Beware ‘Ghosting’: Protect credit after death in the family

It’s hard to believe, but about 2.5 million identities are stolen each year from victims who are deceased and used improperly to apply for credit products and services each year, according to a new study recently released by ID Analytics. Better Business Bureau of Acadiana warns families to protect themselves during these difficult periods of grief.
May 15, 2014

The study compared the names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers on 100 million applications during the first three months of 2011 to data in the Social Security Administration's Death Master File to find which applications used personally identifiable information associated with deceased individuals.

The study found:

  • Nearly 800,000 deceased Americans' identities are intentionally targeted for misuse on applications for credit products and cell phone services by fraudsters each year.
  • In approximately 1.6 million applications annually, an identity manipulator inadvertently used the SSN of a deceased person.
  • Several hundred thousand potential misuses of dying people's identities each year.

When a loved one passes away families do not have identity theft on their mind. It is a difficult to think about identity safety at such an emotional time; adding one more thing to an already long list of difficult jobs to do at that time.

BBB offers the following guidelines to prevent identity theft of the deceased of any age:

  • Obtain at least 12 copies of the official death certificate as soon as it becomes available. It may be possible to photocopy the original, but remember that death records are public and some organizations may ask for more proof.
  • If there is a surviving spouse or another sort of joint account holder, make sure to immediately let credit card companies, banks, stock brokers, loan/lien holders and mortgage companies of the know about the death.
  • The executor/surviving spouse will need to discuss any outstanding debts by either transferring or closing accounts.

Contact all financial institutions that may need to be informed of the death and make sure to follow the correct guidelines.

Generally, it is best to send all important information in a letter to the agency—sent via certified mail with return receipt requested, as this will speed up processing. Include name and Social Security number of deceased as well as last known address, last five years of addresses, date of birth, date of death.

Request copies of the decedent’s credit reports at The reports will show any remaining active accounts that still need to be closed and ask an alert be placed on the name to tell potential creditors to not issue any new credit.

BBB works for a trustworthy marketplace by maintaining standards for truthful advertising, investigating and exposing fraud against consumers and businesses.

BBB of Acadiana services the parishes of Acadia, Evangeline, Iberia, Lafayette, St. Martin, St. Landry and Vermilion.