By stealing a person's death certificate, thieves are using dead people's information to open new accounts in their name.
BOSTON -- Rest in peace is apparently a phrase some identity thieves are willing to ignore in their quest for ill-gotten gains. One thief stole the identities of dozens of victims who had recently died.
Reichheld said she felt helpless when she learned the identity of her wife, Amy, had been stolen "after" her recent death. She said, "It looked like somebody had been requesting death certificates and stealing those identities from the information on the death certificates."
When Reichheld called her town to find out who may have requested a copy of Amy's death certificate, she was surprised by the answer. They told her anyone can get one. They said it's publi record, and they don't track it.
But Reichheld disagreed. She said, "Her death may be public record, but all that information you're handing out for $10 is not public record."
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 postal inspectors after realizing they had a large amount of requests for death certificates.
Postal Inspector Brian Evans said, "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." It only cost them $10.
Evans said, "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."
Evans said, once they have access to the personal bank and credit card accounts of victims they could drain these bank accounts or make charges on the credit cards. He said, "Actually these people in some cases, the victims' families were losing money and they couldn't even pay for the funeral."
In this case, there were almost a dozen victims. The losses added up to tens of thousands of dollars. Evans said, "This criminal took advantage of you when you're at your most vulnerable state both emotionally and possibly financially."
Reichheld said, "It's a very devious and fairly smart way of stealing someone's identity because they are not there to care. 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, family members should notify credit bureaus. They also say it's a good idea to cancel the deceased persons driver license and don't give too many details in obituaries.
They also say, though it is the last thing on anyone's mind, be aware of the mail coming into your house. That way you know if you're not getting something you normally receive -- like bank statements or credit card statements. If certain mail stops arriving, someone might be stealing your mail and your identity.