About a week ago I started feeling the pressure. I walked outside and across the street from me were a series of hairy looking bats hanging from trees at varying heights. Next door, spooky spider webs had taken over hedges. Two doors down an entire undead choir was set up in the yard and ready for practice. Neighborhood pride on the line, I realized I needed to freak out my front yard in honor of October’s official fright fest, Halloween.
As I rummaged through the seasonal decorations bins in the garage, it hit me that I seemed to have collected an inordinate amount of Halloween themed stuff over the years. You could see things I’d made or acquired during my school days when the pocketbook was tight: Crepe paper witches, cardboard skeletons and black cats fashioned out of clothespins.
As the years passed, the scary stuff gets more commercial: Warty rubber masks, ghoulish battery-operated glowing skulls and Suspend-a-Zombies, once hung, that sway spookily in time with chilly autumn winds.
As I pored over this assembly of scary accoutrement, I realized that before my eyes there were years of Halloweens past. I was surprised to realize that this single container in my garage represented nearly four decades of my life in Halloween. The vast array of memories associated with each item, along with the number of years I’d been collecting these things, felt like some sort of eerie home décor resume.
And that’s when it hit me. If someone wanted to Google Alicia’s Lifelong Halloween Scare Fare, this was a visual representation of what that search would yield.
Now obviously my container of scary stuff isn’t online. But as we all know, an annoying amount of our personal information is available at the tips of an identity thief’s fingertips. Even scarier, there’s an excess of information available about people who have recently passed away. And it’s the information published about the recently deceased, rather than their specifically having passed, that puts their identities at risk for ‘Ghosting’.
Ghosting is a form of identity theft that’s long been around but has lately increased in popularity. When a thief ‘ghosts’ an identity, they take on the identity of a specific, deceased person whose passing is not yet widely known. The thief then lives as though they were that deceased person.
Ghosting often begins with an obituary where the thief learns the name and address of the dearly departed. With some public records searches and a few dollars in hand, the ghoster easily accesses a Master Death List available through a federal government agency I won’t mention here (to keep us all a bit safer). With the information gleaned there, the identity of a deceased person can be stolen, or ghosted, and utilized just like any other identity.
So how can you protect your loved ones and stop a ghoster in his or her ghastly tracks?
Notify the Credit Bureaus:
Informing the credit bureaus of a family member’s death can help prevent future lines of credit being established in their name. Make a specific request that the deceased’s credit report be flagged as ‘Deceased’.
Contact Financial Institutions:
Accounts of the deceased can remain open for months following the passing of a relative, making the account vulnerable to a ghoster. The only way to guarantee the account will be closed is if a family member notifies the financial institution and provides documentation of the passing.
Contact the Social Security Administration:
Make sure the Social Security Administration is informed of the death. If the identity thief has ghosted your relative and attempts to obtain a job in his or her name, earnings reported to the Social Security Administration will alert them of the theft.
Limit Personal Information In Obituaries:
While publicly honoring our loved ones when they pass is a long standing practice, eliminate any numerical information about the deceased. Refrain from including addresses, dates of birth, or any other dates related to specific personal information that would assist an identity thief with the ghosting process.
Sorry, comments are closed for this article.