There is much to deal with after the passing of a family member, the last thing you think you would have to do is deal with credit applications. But that is just what this family had to do, as their deceased family member’s identity was stolen and used to apply for AMEX and BestBuy among other credit cards.
Identity theft accounted for over 250,000 Federal Trade Commission complaints last year making it the leading reported consumer complaint for the eighth year in a row. The most common form of identity theft is the fraudulent use of a victim’s existing accounts but the most serious forms involve the opening of new accounts using a stolen identity.
Consumer advocates have argued long and hard that “instant credit” standards allow identity thieves to easily steal money with a stolen identity. Slowly the government is responding by requiring the credit industry to take extra steps to verify applications when an address is different than the one in the applicant’s main credit file. This new FTC rule just went into effect November 1, 2008.
It may be the reason that the Chapgar family’s phone was ringing repeatedly to verify that their son Zal Chapgar had applied for new credit cards, although he was recently deceased. The deceased aren’t eliminated as targets of identity theft and apparently the grieving aren’t immune to the consequences either.
The Chapgar family of Blue Bell, Pennsylvania was grieving after the death of their son. Imagine the pain of almost immediately receiving multiple phone calls from creditors, including American Express, Citibank and Best Buy, to verify if their son had applied for new credit cards.
“We thought it was a freak thing,” said Zal’s mother, Kerban Chapgar . “It was only after the second call that we started to pay attention.”
What is a family in mourning to do to avoid not only the hassle but also the pain of having a deceased loved one’s identity stolen?
“It’s probably one of the last things you want to think about in a situation like that,” said Tim Klein, a spokesman for Equifax, one of three major credit-reporting agencies.
The Chapgar family placed a “fraud alert” on their son’s credit file as soon as they realized that his identity was being stolen. Consumer advocates recommend taking this step to put an extra speed bump in the road to slow down identity thieves.
“The fact of the matter is, there’s a lot of identity theft that’s in the pipeline that hasn’t been discovered yet,” said Paul Stephens, policy director of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a California nonprofit monitoring credit reporting.
How to place a fraud alert:
To place a fraud alert for 90 days consumers can contact any of the three main credit-reporting companies and the contacted company is then responsible for alerting the other two.
*Equifax, 1-800-525-6285 equifax.com
*Experian, 1-888-397-3742 or experian.com
*TransUnion, 1-800-680-7289 or transunion.com
Additional steps that need to be taken when a relative dies:
To ensure that a relative’s credit file is marked as “deceased,” credit-reporting agencies recommend these steps.
*Notify the Social Security Administration of the death.
*Send a copy of a death certificate, police report or notarized letter to all three credit-reporting agencies.
*Notify all businesses that the person did business with of the death and provide a copy of the death certificate once it is available.
New regulations put in place by the Federal Trade Commission should help slow down or prevent some instances of identity theft but grieving families may want to consider taking these steps on behalf of their loved ones.