ID Thieves Steal Info On Dead From Web Site

SPOKANE – An online database is being called a goldmine for identity thieves. In a matter of seconds, anyone can have access to thousands of Social Security numbers.

The social security numbers belong to those that have died, but those trained in preventing identity theft say those Social Security numbers can be just as valuable as a Social Security number belonging to someone who’s still alive.

In fact, for years, identity thieves have profited from Social Security numbers belonging to those who have died. When a loved one dies, you rarely think about protecting their identity. Now, though, with their Social Security number so easily available, you have to.

Long after your loved one has passed, their Social Security number, lives on. A free online database of Social Security numbers belonging to those who have died allows you to type in anyone’s name who has died, and their old Social Security number pops up. There were numbers belonging to people who died several years ago and numbers belonging to people who died just months ago.

The database is connected to a genealogy website, but Margie Basaraba calls it a goldmine for identity thieves.

“When we’re talking about issues like illegal aliens,” says Basaraba, a certified identity theft risk management specialist, “yes, a Social Security number is a goldmine.”

Basaraba often teaches seminars to help people prevent identity theft. She says most of her students don’t think about thieves stealing the identity of those who have died. But, she says, they’ll want to, as every year dead people apply for credit cards, file for tax refunds and get drivers licenses.

“Last year, there were over 400,000 bank accounts opened for people that were deceased. In one year,” she says.

“How do you know that person is not who they say they are?” asks Greg Hansen of Intermountain Community Bank.

Hansen admits if a new client wants to open a bank account, and provides the needed information, it’s difficult to turn them away.

“There’s very little cross-referencing, even Social Security, to validate this person is deceased,” Hansen says. “This number is no longer valid. It’s very difficult.”

After a death, it’s difficult to think about protecting a person’s identity. But there are suggested steps that should be taken. First, cancel or remove the person’s name from all credit or bank accounts. Then quickly notify the Social Security Administration of the person’s death. Then, as soon as you can, mail copies of the person’s death certificate to all three credit-reporting bureaus.

And contact your state department of motor vehicles to cancel any driver’s licenses and prevent duplicates from being issued.

“You have to do continuous monitoring and most people don’t do that,” Basaraba says. “There’s no way to do it effectively.”

Basaraba says if you don’t constantly monitor a person’s past credit, it could cost thousands. And while it’s unlikely a creditor will come after a deceased person’s family, it’s not out of the question.

“It may come back to you or back to the estate,” she says. “What if they ran up a huge bill?”

Basaraba points out that if an individual doesn’t pay for the losses, creditors will have to and will eventually pass those costs on to consumers. That makes virtually everyone a victim of identity theft, as well as a Social Security system that’s supposed to provide unique identities, though over and over again, it has failed.

“It had its purpose, but then the crooks took it,” says Basaraba. “The ones that are bad, and used it to their benefit. And so it’s gotten to be a nightmare of a problem.”

The government says, though, that the database, known as the “Death Master File”, is actually the biggest tool to prevent financial fraud, as well as terrorism. It says creditors, insurance companies and government agencies are able to use this database to confirm whether a Social Security number is legit or not.

As Hansen said, though, there’s no easy way to do it. And Basaraba will say the less information about you made available to the public, the better.