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The Resource Center Identity Theft & Protection | article

Even in Death, an Identity Isn't Safe

The loss of a loved one can be a trying event for anyone, especially for a parent whose child dies at a young age. However, some families have to deal with more than just the emotional pain of an unexpected death, as an increasingly popular form of identity fraud has been emerging that takes advantage of the deceased’s personal information.

This was the case for the Brownings, who had already been dealt a blow when their daughter Kaylynn died at the age of 22 on January 1, 2011. After Susan filed her taxes for 2010, she received a letter from the Internal Revenue Services asking her to verify that she was eligible to claim Kaylynn as a dependant.

Thieves don’t care if their victim has passed away
Not understanding why she’d need to prove that she was her daughter’s legal guardian, Susan looked into the case further. It turned out that someone else had already used Kaylynn’s Social Security number (SSN) and claimed her as a dependent on their tax forms before the Brownings. Already distraught from the death of her daughter, Susan now had to fight for Kaylynn’s identity after she had passed away.

Personal information is even more available posthumously
Susan found out that Kaylynn’s SSN was essentially bought through a database kept by the Department of Commerce’s National Technical Information Service called the Death Master File (DMF). Developed in 1980, the DMF was originally designed to help banks detect whether a SSN used to open up an account was fraudulent. However, for $10, anyone can buy information like a deceased person’s SSN, regardless of whether they represent a financial institution.

It happens to thousands every year
The Brownings were able to successfully dispute the claim, allowing them to file their taxes with Kaylynn as a dependent. This isn’t always the case, though, as a study done by Scripps Howard News Service in 2012 showed that more than 350,000 deceased identities were used to fraudulently file tax returns in 2011.

Despite the successful outcome, had the Brownings been enrolled in a credit monitoring service, they may have been able to detect the identity theft earlier.

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