Dead People Keep Identity-Theft Scams Alive

Millions of deceased Americans spring back to life each year in the hands of cybercriminals.

THE GIST

Fraudsters use the identities of deceased people to apply for credit cards.

Monitoring credit reports for one year after a death can help prevent fraud.

The identities of nearly 2.5 million deceased Americans spring back to life each year in the hands of cybercriminals bent on financial fraud, according to a new study.

Fraudsters intentionally manipulate the identities of the dead more than 2,000 times every day, Dr. Stephen Coggeshall, chief technology officer of ID Analytics, told SecurityNewsDaily. Over the course of a year, that's more than 730,000 identities being resurrected to apply for credit cards, cell phones and a host of other services.

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Using its own real-time network that scans the flow of applications for credit cards as well as retail and financial services, ID Analytics derived its data by comparing the names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of 100 million Americans to data in the Social Security Administration's Death Master File in the first three months of 2011.

In addition to blatant financial fraud, the San Diego-based firm discovered that identity thieves "inadvertently used the SSN of a deceased person" in approximately 1.6 million applications annually. ID Analytics estimated that out of the entire annual volume of applications for credit card products and services submitted in the United States, nearly 6.8 million have "at least a partial match" to the Social Security number of a dead person.

The problem isn't strictly six feet under: ID Analytics found that the personally identifiable information of several hundred thousand dying people also is compromised each year.

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"While this is clearly a problem for businesses, surviving family members can also be the victims of this identity fraud as they are left to manage the estates of their deceased loved ones," Coggeshall said. "Businesses often have strong defenses" against these types of cybercrime attempts, Coggeshall told SecurityNewsDaily, while individuals may be more vulnerable and left wondering how they can effectively combat identity theft on their own.

Coggeshall told SecurityNewsDaily he recommends monitoring the identities, including credit reports, of the deceased for at least one year after death, and shredding any documents that contain a person's Social Security number.

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