7 Ways to Protect Your Parent's Good Name


7 Ways to Protect Your Parent's Good Name

Don't let thieves steal mom or dad's identity after they die.

Sometimes identity thieves scour obituaries or genealogical Web sites for the information they need to steal the identities of the recently deceased -- then run up unauthorized debts against the estate, raid accounts or nab benefits. But all too often, the source of fraud is disgruntled family members or caregivers who have easy access to personal information.

Creditors will forgive debts arising from fraud and financial institutions will restore funds once they have proof of death. But Linda Foley, of the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego, says families may still incur significant legal costs to resolve those problems.

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Foley says that you can try to prevent post-mortem identity theft by taking the following steps (discussed in more detail in Identity Theft and the Deceased: Prevention and Victim Tips; free online at www.idtheftcenter.org; click on Victim Resources, Victim Guides, FS 117):

1. Notify all of your parent's creditors, banks and stock brokers. State law may require that you do this anyway, as well as post a notice in the newspaper. If you choose to close an account rather than transfer ownership, ask the institution to list it as: "Closed. Account holder is deceased." Don't forget the Department of Motor Vehicles; membership organizations such as the public library, video rental or gym; insurance companies; the Veteran's Administration; Immigration Services; and so on.


2. Order at least a dozen copies of the death certificate from the funeral director. When you notify businesses with whom your parent dealt, they may require original copies, rather than photocopies.

3. Contact the major credit-reporting agencies. Ask Experian, Equifax and TransUnion to place a "deceased alert" on your parent's report. This will prevent credit issuers from opening any new lines of credit in your parent's name. The fact sheet at www.idtheftcenter.org provides specifics and contact information.

4. Ask the credit bureaus for copies of your parent's credit report. Those will reveal any creditors you may not have known about.

5. Notify the Social Security Administration. Funeral directors may offer to handle this for you, but it's best to call yourself. The Social Security Administration also provides an online guide, How Social Security Can Help You When a Family Member Dies.


6. Dispose of the computer. Make sure that you've gleaned any personal or financial documents from it that you need or want to keep, then destroy the hard drive. Foley says you can buy software to scramble the information, but she believes a well-struck hammer works best. If you intend to give the computer away, say to a school, pay the small sum (say, $50 to $100) necessary to replace the drive.

7. Shred nonessential papers. When the estate is settled and you've put aside papers that you need or want to keep, shred the remainder with a cross-cut shredder or hire a shredding service that can dispatch a large quantity of paper in minutes (look in the Yellow Pages under "business services"). Mobile services will come to you and shred the material. They typically charge a minimum, say $120 for the first ten Bankers Boxes®, and a per-box fee thereafter. Otherwise, you'll have to deliver the boxes to the shredding company, which will charge you a per-box fee.

For more information on what do do after a parent dies, see Secure the House: A Checklist.