ID Thieves Targeting the Dead - WBAY

Target 2 Consumer Alert

ID Thieves Targeting the Dead


"Rest in Peace" is a phrase some identity thieves ignore.  They're using the obituary section to find their next victim, and you might be surprised to know just how easy it is to get information.

"It looked like somebody had been requesting death certificates and stealing those identities from the information on the death certificates."

Lindsey Reichheld of Massachusetts says she felt helpless when she learned the identity of her wife, Amy, had been stolen after Amy's death.

"Anyone can walk in and they don't track it. And I said 'Really?' And they said, 'Yes, it's public record.'"

Reichheld called her town to find out who may have requested a copy of Amy's death certificate. She was surprised by the answer.

"Her death may be public record, but all that information you're handing out for $10 is not public record," said Reichheld.

Most death certificates contain the full names of parents of the deceased as well as addresses, and date of birth.

"The bad guy in this case went onto the obituary section of the local paper, realized someone was deceased and they could access their death certificate," said Brian Evans, US Postal Inspector.

An astute town clerk called postal inspectors after realizing they had a large amount of requests for death certificates.

"Once they accessed that information on the death certificate, they went to postal service, filled out a change of address form, and actually got the mail diverted from the deceased individual to their residence," said Evans.

"They could drain these bank accounts or make charges on the credit cards. Actually these people in some cases, the victims' families were losing money and they couldn't even pay for the funeral."

In this case, there were almost a dozen victims and the losses added up to tens of thousands of dollars.

"It's a very devious and fairly smart way of stealing someone's identity, because they are not there to care," said Reichheld. "Amy isn't going to get on the phone and say, 'I didn't open this credit card, what are you talking about?'"

Postal inspectors recommend notifying credit bureaus as soon as a death certificate is issued. It is a good idea to cancel the deceased person's driver's license.  Don't give too many details in obituaries.

If certain mail stops arriving, someone might be stealing your mail and your identity.

In Wisconsin, a person wanting to obtain a certified copy of a death certificate must present identification and have a "direct and tangible" interest in the record. Direct and tangible is defined as: An immediate family member, grandchildren, step-parents, step-children, step-siblings. However, they can only obtain if they show legal proof to do so.  That would be a person authorized in writing by one of the above, or a person who can demonstrate that the death certificate is required to determine or to protect a personal or property right.

In Wisconsin, death records are filed with the County Register of Deeds which keep track of who requests all records, as well as making sure the requestor presents valid identification.

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