By Robb Hicken/ BBB’s chief storyteller
Eagle resident Douglass Toews looked blankly at the envelope and piece of paper he held. His face neither carried anger nor sadness, but a blank sullen expression.
“It’s one thing to run a scam against people, but this is really low,” he says.
In his hand is a letter addressed to his wife, who had passed away five years ago. The letter, from Tridell Incorporation, of London, stated Twila had won the second place in the lottery. Enclosed was a phone number, a contact person and a cashier’s check for $2,950.75 with instructions to deposit it and send back money to pay taxes.
“I can’t imagine what they were thinking in sending me this,” he says. “I’m glad I heard [BBB] speak about lottery scams just last month.”
Toews’ reminder shook him, but he wanted to use it as a reminder to others – safeguard your loved one’s identity.
Nearly 2.5 million deceased Americans’ have their identity stolen each year. How is that happening? Several ways. One way is thieves read obituaries. They look for personal information such as birthday, mother’s maiden name and home address.
The thieves move quickly using the stolen identity to buy trips, electronics, cars, etc. while you are overcoming grief and attending to your loved one’s personal effects. The experts tell us to contact each credit reporting bureau: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Ask them to flag the account as “deceased”. This stops the chance of credit being issued.
Contact the Social Security office, banks, investments companies, insurance companies, and if applicable, the mortgage company. You will need an original copy of the death certificate for the entities you contact. They should mark the account as closed due to death of the account holder. Of course, if there are joint accounts, just remove the name of the deceased.
Don’t forget to cancel the deceased’s driver’s license. You don’t want a duplicate floating around in the hands of thieves.
The second way for fraudsters to get the social security number of the deceased is by chance. They make up social security numbers and it just happens to match the number of someone who died. Plus, unfortunately Uncle Sam has made Social Security numbers available in the Death Master File which is widely available on the Internet.
This is the time of year of tax returns. A fraudulent tax return using the deceased person’s social security number works great for a con artist to make money via refunds.
The third way a deceased identity is stolen is by a family member. Most of us can’t imagine a family member doing such a thing. Just know it does happen in some families.
“I hope you can catch these guys,” he says, as hands over the letter.