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Explore the latest happenings at Kirtland CU and learn about important topics from around the financial world. Here’s your insight! To learn about retirements, investments and financial planning, check out Invested now.

Ghosting Fraud: A Grave Matter

By Ashleigh, K-Staff

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When it comes to the risk of identity theft, death isn’t the end—it can often be the beginning.

It’s called ghosting, according to the AARP, and every year, the estates of 2.5 million deceased individuals are victimized by this form of identity theft.

Ghosting is a form of digital grave robbing. Using the personal information of a deceased individual, a thief can do a lot of damage before the deceased’s family even notices something is amiss. This is because it can take six months for financial institutions and credit-reporting bureaus to receive, share, or register death records. And since the dead don’t monitor their own credit, and it’s likely their family isn’t monitoring it either, a thief often has an extended period of time to commit further fraud.

Most often, a thief will randomly choose a Social Security number (not a targeted attack), but often ghosting is a crime of opportunity. Nearly 800,000 of those 2.5 million victims each year represent targeted attacks.

Thieves can glean personal information from obituaries, hospitals and funeral homes—information like birth date, home address, and full name. And with those pieces of information, a thief may be able to purchase the deceased’s Social Security number illicitly online.

In many instances, thieves will use the information they’ve gained to file tax returns under the identity of the dead and collect refunds. In fact, in 2011, the IRS paid out $5.2 billion in fraudulent returns.

While surviving family members are not responsible for fraudulent charges and tax filings, a thief can leave quite a mess to untangle in a loved one’s estate.

Protect The Estate

  • Don’t list specific birth dates, maiden name, or other personal identifiers in the obituary.
  • Don’t publish home addresses within the obituary. Thieves have even been known to plan home burglaries for the time of the funeral.
  • Use certified mail with “return receipt” to send copies of the death certificate to each credit reporting agency (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and ask them to place a “deceased alert” on the credit report. Certificates should also be sent to banks, insurers, brokerages, credit card companies, and mortgage companies where the deceased held an account. For join accounts, request the deceased’s name be removed.
  • Report the death to Social Security by calling 1-800-772-1213.
  • Contact the state department of motor vehicles to cancel their driver license (to prevent duplicates from being issues to a thief).
  • Monitor the deceased’s credit with AnnualCreditReport.com. It’s free!
  • Let your loved one’s credit union or bank know as soon as possible! Kirtland FCU can help prevent a fraudster from calling in and doing business as a deceased individual if we’re aware of the passing.


In the midst of grief, protecting a loved one’s identity may be the last thing on a family’s mind. But adding these simple steps to the handling of an estate can help you avoid a lot of headaches and frustration.

Don't Be a Victim!

You need to know about credit union impersonation scams so you can avoid becoming a victim of these nefarious tactics.

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