BOSTON, Mass. - Even those who have died aren't immune to identity theft. Lindsey Reichheld says she felt helpless when she learned the identity of her wife, Amy, had been stolen after her recent death.
"This shouldn't fall on loved ones. There is not much I can do," said Reichheld.
So how did it happen?
"It looked like somebody had been requesting death certificates and stealing those identities from the information on the death certificates," added Reichheld.
When Reichheld called her town to find out who may have requested a copy of Amy's death certificate, she says she was surprised by the answer.
"Anyone can walk in and they don't track it and I said, 'Really?' And they said, 'Yes, it's public record,'" she explained.
But Reichheld disagrees.
"Her death may be public record, but all that information you're handing out for $10 is not public record," she added.
Most death certificates contain the full names of parents of the deceased as well as addresses and date of birth. An astute town clerk called inspectors after realizing they had a large amount of requests for death certificates.
'The bad guy in this case went onto the obituary section of the local paper, realized someone was deceased and they could access their death certificate," explained US Postal Inspector Brian Evans.
For just $10, ID thieves can get a copy of any death certificate.
"Once they accessed that information on the death certificate they went to postal service filed out a change of address form and actually got the mail diverted from the deceased individual to their residence," warned Evans.
Inspectors add, once they have access to the personal bank and credit card accounts of victims they could drain these accounts or make changes on the credit cards.
"Actually these people in some cases, the victims' families were losing money and they couldn't even pay for the funeral," said Evans.
In this case, there were almost a dozen victims and the losses added up to tens of thousands of dollars.
"This criminal took advantage of you when you're at your most vulnerable state both emotionally and possibly financially," said Evans.
"It's a very devious and fairly smart way of stealing someone's identity because they are not there to care," said Reichheld. "Amy isn't going to get on the phone and say, 'I didn't open this credit card, what are you talking about?'"
Postal inspectors recommend as soon as a death certificate is issued, credit bureaus should be notified. It is a good idea to cancel the deceased person's driver license and don't give too many details in obituaries.
Though it is the last thing on anyone's mind, be aware of the mail coming into you house so you know if you're not getting something you normally receive such as bank statements or credit card statements. If certain mail stops arriving, someone might be stealing your mail and your identity.
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