First steps to protecting your loved one’s identity

4 min read

How to prevent identity theft

  • Notify Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian (the credit reporting agencies), relevant credit card companies, and insurance companies of your loved one’s death.

  • Shred your loved one’s credit cards and punch a hole in their government-issued IDs.

  • Cancel your loved one’s subscriptions, memberships, and any other recurring charges for services that are not needed to maintain their estate.

  • Keep tabs on who tries to contact your loved one in the six to eight months after their death.

When you’re grieving for someone you love, you might not want to think about responsibilities like paperwork and accounts. But there are some immediate administrative things to take care of in the wake of their passing that will avoid even more hardships down the line.

Staying on top of your loved one’s accounts is particularly important for preventing identity theft. There is always the danger of someone else, usually a stranger, opening accounts in their name if they are able to get hold of the person’s Social Security number, address, and other personal info.

To make sure this doesn’t happen to you and your family, there are some preemptive steps you can take, after which you should remain vigilant for any irregularities.

Immediate to-dos

The most important step to take is to contact the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Call each of them immediately to ask them for the process of putting a freeze on your loved one’s credit.

This will involve writing by certified mail to all three agencies and including the information they request: generally, your loved one’s name and address, their Social Security number, dates of birth and death, and a copy of the death certificate. In addition, you will have to provide proof of your relationship to your loved one or of your right to act on their behalf such as letters testamentary. Request a final credit report to be issued when they freeze the credit.

Once this is done, find and cancel all of their credit cards by contacting the credit card companies, and shred the cards.

Keep the person’s driver’s license in a secure place, or even with you at all times. It’s a good idea to punch a hole in their driver’s license and passport to prevent someone else from using them if they get lost or stolen. 

Also contact any insurance companies your loved one had policies with and provide them with the necessary documents to inform them of your loved one's passing.

Dealing with accounts

When you start to take stock of accounts, you may wonder which to close, which to keep open, and which to transfer into someone else’s name.

You’ll want to keep monitoring phone calls and mail, so don’t cancel their primary phone number right away, and get their mail forwarded. It’s important to keep tabs on who is trying to contact your loved one in the six to eight months after their passing. 

A paper trail can be key to resolving identity theft in the event that it happens.

Monitor the person’s email and mail for any bills or notifications that a credit card charge did not go through. This will help you identify any recurring payments that need to be canceled, like subscriptions, memberships, or automatic payments for bills. As those come in, make sure to cancel those accounts to prevent further charges. 

You can immediately cancel any recurring charges for services that nobody will be using and that aren’t needed to maintain their property (think magazine subscriptions, Netflix, or gym memberships). 

Other steps you can take

If you’re concerned that your loved one’s identity is particularly vulnerable, there are extra precautions you can take. You might consider not informing the larger public of their death right away, or leaving information such as their date of birth and address out of their obituary.

It’s also important to understand who is taking care of which accounts, bills, and paperwork. People often assume hospitals or funeral directors are informing more agencies about the death than they actually do. Make sure you’re clear on who they are contacting and who you need to get in touch with yourself. 

Professional help, like lawyers or financial advisors, can be extremely helpful in closing complicated estates, but don’t assume everything is being done. Keep a list of accounts you’re not sure whether they’re handling or not, and address them in a timely manner. 

You should also keep paperwork as proof of account closures, final credit reports, and paid bills. A paper trail can be key to resolving identity theft in the event that it happens.

Any documents that need to be kept should be kept in a secure place, and any digital copies password-protected. Paperwork with your loved one's sensitive information on it that can be gotten rid of should be shredded or otherwise disposed of in a way that renders it unreadable. 

The paperwork and responsibilities might seem endless at first, but be patient with yourself as you resolve them. If you stay organized and keep good records, your loved one’s identity will remain safe, leaving you able to mourn them without worry.

You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.