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Preventing identity theft

Kate Beddington-Brown, Head of Communications at CIFAS - the UK’s Fraud Prevention Service - looks at measures that can prevent a cruel type of identity fraud: impersonating the dead.

Identity Theft

The discovery that a loved one has been impersonated after their death by a fraudster who uses the deceased person’s identity to open accounts such as credit cards and loans, compounds the grief of bereavement.

If you are dealing with the recent death of a loved one, or want to put your own affairs in order so that your identity will not be stolen on your death, it is important to act on the following.

To inform appropriate companies and organisations - mainly those in the financial services sector - death registration data is now being released on a weekly basis by the General Register Office in England and Wales together with its counterparts in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

This is a significant move to prevent fraudulent impersonation of the recently deceased.

How to protect against identity theft of recently dead

Relatives and executors should also take the following steps to protect the identities and reputations of the recently deceased.

  • Do not include the age, date of birth or the address of the deceased in any advertisements or announcements relating to the death or the funeral. These pieces of information make it much easier for identity fraudsters to impersonate dead people;
  • Notify immediately Government Departments (Department for Work & Pensions and HM Revenue & Customs) and all companies that have been in communication with the recently bereaved (banks, utilities and insurance companies);
  • Return any pension/allowance books to the Department for Work & Pensions by registered/recorded delivery;
  • If statements or other mail continue to be sent to the recently deceased make a formal complaint to the company or companies sending them;
  • Shred all documents that could be used by an identity fraudster when going through the deceased person’s belongings;
  • Ensure any clothes, belongings, bags etc that may be given to charity shops or other people do not contain any information about the recently deceased;
  • Check with Royal Mail that there is no mail redirection to the deceased person’s home;
  • Organise a mail re-direction to your own address - do not rely on collecting mail from the property, especially if the property is empty or for sale;
  • Insist that all viewings of properties lived in by the deceased are accompanied. Following a death, identity fraudsters organise viewings of empty properties with estate agents specifically to steal or collect mail;
  • Sign up with the Mailing Preference Service or telephone 020 7291 3310 to stop direct mail, including offers of loans and credit cards being sent to the deceased person - this is a free service;
  • Report the matter to the police if your family becomes a victim and insist that the matter is allocated a crime reference number to ensure that it is recorded in the national crime statistics.

If you suspect possible identity fraud

If you believe the identity of a deceased person may be used by a fraudster, a CIFAS Protective Registration may be placed by a relative or executor against the deceased person’s address.

The service protects the identities registered with it by flagging to over 270 CIFAS member organisations (virtually the whole financial services industry) that the identity is at risk of being misused by fraudsters. In some cases this may result in further proof of identification being requested to validate the information provided.

Find out about Protective Registration on the CIFAS website and click on Protective Registration. There is a small annual fee to register.

A copy of the death certificate will be required when the registration is set up.

Being proactive

You should instruct your executor to do everything possible to prevent your identity being stolen when you die by including these instructions in your secure access Lifebox.

Make your executor, or trusted close family member, the second key holder. Only this person will be able to open your Lifebox when your death is confirmed, or when you give permission.

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