Updated: Jun 4
A stolen identity only adds to the stress of losing a loved one. Learn how you can prevent identity theft after a loved one has passed away.
The risk of identity theft doesn’t end when someone passes away. In fact, identity fraud is often difficult to pick up on when users aren’t alive to monitor their accounts for suspicious activity. It’s why this type of identity theft is often referred to as “ghosting” because it can easily go unnoticed when family or executors don’t check in on accounts after someone has passed away. What’s especially cruel about ghosting is how it preys on people during times of grief and loss, when their minds are preoccupied. Here are some steps you can take to prevent identity theft after someone you care about has passed away.
Be mindful about expressions of grief online
While you might be tempted to pour your heart out onto the page when crafting an obituary, be mindful that identity thieves often search through information online and in newspapers in a bid to co-opt identities. Some details that you should consider leaving out are an exact birthdate, address, city of birth, mother’s maiden name or any other personal details that might be used to answer security questions.
It’s also important to be mindful about the reach of any social media posts and to limit them to your immediate network by using the privacy settings each platform offers.
Ensure social media accounts are properly shut down
EstateBox founder and CEO, Anjali Inman, recently spoke about digital assets and estate planning, including the importance of securing digital accounts after someone passes away.
“From a security standpoint, it’s important for executors to have access to digital accounts so they can be shut down,” she shared. “Leaving accounts open and not monitored is a security risk; they can be hacked and your personal information stolen.”
If you’ve agreed to be someone’s executor, make sure you’ll have access to these types of accounts so they can be shut down in a timely manner. More and more digital accounts are starting to offer legacy features but these features only help if users opt into them before they pass away.
Contacting financial institutions and credit bureaus
Notifying the two main credit bureaus in Canada, Equifax and TransUnion, of your loved one’s passing will help prevent identity theft and ensure that you don’t have to deal with creditors. Once credit bureaus are notified someone has passed away, a death notice is placed on their file which should prevent anyone from applying for credit using the deceased person’s information.
Similarly, contacting banks, investment companies, lenders, and mortgage companies with notice of your loved one’s death will prevent these avenues from being susceptible to identity theft.
Debts will likely need to be addressed, and most of these companies will need a death certificate. It’s a good idea to request a copy of the deceased’s credit report to be able to systematically check all active credit cards or collection matters.
Notify the federal government of the death
There are several federal programs, departments, or agencies that will likely need to be notified of your loved one’s passing. Keep in mind that who exactly needs to be notified can depend on details like if the deceased person served in the Canadian Armed Forces, where they passed away (in Canada or abroad), and where they lived. Reporting a death within the first two weeks following their passing will avoid benefit overpayments and ensure that their Social Insurance Number is attended to in the proper fashion. Contacting the CRA will ensure that thieves can’t file a fraudulent tax return to obtain a refund in the deceased person’s name. In 2011, identity thieves in the United States collected $5.2 billion from the IRS after filing tax returns under the identities of deceased Americans.
Cancel the driver’s licence and other identification
Visit your province/territory’s service office with the deceased person’s plastic driver’s licence card and a death certificate to cancel the licence. Depending on the home province/territory of the deceased, you may be able to request a refund for the unused months remaining in the licence period. If the deceased person had a current passport, it’s a good idea to send it to the federal passport program who can securely destroy it. Simply send the passport, a death certificate, and a letter stating whether you’d like the passport destroyed or returned to you. Expired passports don’t need to be returned but they can be sent in to be securely destroyed.
If you choose to keep your loved one’s expired or cancelled passport, ensure it’s stored in a safe place. Passports that are no longer valid can still be used to commit fraud or identity theft.
Report identity theft
Even if you take the necessary precautions, it only takes one piece of information for identity fraud to occur. If you notice suspicious activity on a deceased person’s accounts and suspect identity fraud has taken place, it’s important to report it to your local police and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC). Reports to the CAFC can be made online or over the phone.
The best identity theft protection is simply being careful about what information you share after your loved one has passed away and attending to their accounts and government issued identification. If you’ve agreed to be someone’s executor, ensure you’ll have access to their accounts and that they’ve stored that information in a secure and easily accessible place, like an EstateBox. Create your account today and enjoy a 60-day free trial (no credit card or code required) to help you get started on your life and legacy plan.
While we’re passionate about all things estate planning, we’re not professionals. We recommend speaking with your lawyer or financial advisor when putting together an estate plan. Follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram!