Ghosting Identity Theft: How To Protect Your Dearly Departed

Ghosting identity theft can be difficult to detect once our loved ones have passed on, yet there are steps you can take to protect them from this type of theft.
We receive compensation from the products and services mentioned in this story, but the opinions are the author's own. Compensation may impact where offers appear. We have not included all available products or offers. Learn more about how we make money and our editorial policies.

Criminals are consistently evolving their methods of conducting identity theft. As recently as 2021, consumers filed more than 1.4 million identity theft complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).[1] Nowadays, consumers are more aware of how common it is and how challenging it can be to avoid.

In today's digitally driven world, many need to realize that your data and online footprint can live on long after you do. Although consumers have become more diligent in preventing identity theft, fraudsters have also taken measures to steal the identities of the deceased. This type of identity theft is called deceased person identity theft, also known as ghosting.

Ghosting occurs when somebody uses a deceased person’s information for monetary gain. Losing a loved one is hard enough to navigate as is, so having their identity stolen can create a new set of challenges. Continue reading to learn more about this form of identity theft and how you can protect your family member's information and data, even after they have passed on.

In this article
How does ghosting identity theft occur?
How to address the impacts of ghosting identity theft
Tips to protect your deceased loved ones from ghosting
Ghosting identity theft FAQs
Bottom line

How does ghosting identity theft occur?

Identity theft occurs when someone steals your information and conducts credit activities with the data, often for money. This information usually includes your Social Security number (SSN), birthdate, address, and other personally identifiable information (PII). Unfortunately, criminals have become savvy in stealing the identities of the deceased in a similar manner.

Identity thieves steal deceased identities most often by scanning obituaries. Obituaries serve to be a tribute to your loved ones, yet they can also reveal a lot of information about them that thieves use to steal a deceased person’s identity. They often share a good deal of PII, such as the age, birthdates, parents’ names, residential locations, birthplaces, and even information on the living family of the deceased.

They will also prey on vulnerable grieving individuals and pose as government officials reaching out to “offer” funeral assistance help or answer questions about Medicare/Medicaid plans. Alternatively, criminals target next of kin family members by pretending to be debt collectors and fabricating outstanding debt belonging to the deceased.

In today’s digital age, criminals search obituary sites, such as or, for the information they need. They also steal death certificates or search genealogy sites to conduct their activities. In addition, they use websites like to search for cemeteries and individual headstones and learn more information on the deceased.

How to address the impacts of ghosting identity theft

Ghosting identity theft impacts individuals who may be handling the estate of their deceased loved one. The most common consequence that you may face is that the person or company who has been defrauded loses money. This could be due in part to criminals making fraudulent charges on their credit cards. A fraudster may have taken out loans in their name with no intention of paying them back.

The emotional impact of these crimes is also detrimental to the deceased’s families and loved ones. The loss of a loved one is already difficult enough without it being compounded by fraud. The families and loved ones of these ghosting identity theft victims are often left not only to grieve but to clean up these crimes as well.

Red flags of ghosting identity theft to watch out for

There are several red flags that you can look for if you believe that your deceased loved one’s PII has been stolen:

  • Businesses or organizations call or send you letters concerning financial accounts related to your deceased loved one.
  • Unusual activity on your departed loved one’s credit report.
  • Charges or financial activity on your loved one's bank or credit card account after they have passed but prior to account closure or transfer.
  • New accounts are being opened in the name of the deceased after their passing.
  • New credit or debit cards arrive in the mail addressed to the deceased person.
  • Debt collectors contact you regarding the debts of your deceased family member that you are not aware of or they have a record of the deceased person holding said accounts.
  • A tax bill or notice was sent from the IRS for a year in which your relative did not file a tax return or a tax refund.

Methods to mitigate ghosting identity theft

If you discover or suspect your loved one’s information has been stolen, all hope is not lost. There are several measures that you can take to address and mitigate the damage from ghosting identity theft.

  • Notify the FTC of the identity theft.
  • File a police report for identity theft with local law enforcement. If applicable, you may need to file the police report with the local municipality of the deceased.
  • Get in touch with the credit reporting bureaus and supply them with a legal copy of the death certificate. A deceased alert will be placed on your loved one's credit report once the document is received. This will ensure that if any credit inquiries or new credit requests are made on the file, it will flag the report.
  • Inform the Social Security Administration (SSA) that the recipient has passed away.
  • Destroy or shred all documents that may include the deceased individual's PII.
  • In the event that a known individual or family member commits the theft, a lawyer who practices family law or estate planning may be able to help mitigate this problem.

Tips to protect your deceased loved ones from ghosting

Protecting your deceased loved ones from ghosting identity theft can seem challenging. It is important to remain diligent about notifying the appropriate agencies and taking the steps to protect their identity, even while you are grieving. The dangers of this form of identity fraud can be more damaging emotionally and time-consuming to rectify if your loved one is targeted.

Being aware of the dangers associated with ghosting and understanding how to prevent yourself and your family members from becoming victims is key. While there are no guarantees for preventing identity theft, you can still take some measures in order to help keep yourself and your departed loved one's information safe.

The following are a few simple steps you can take to minimize the likelihood of your loved ones' identity being stolen once they have passed away.

  • Leave more sensitive and identifiable information out of the obituary, such as specific dates, birth locations, mother’s maiden name, and extensive family history.
  • Inform credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, Equifax) and financial institutions of their passing a copy of their death certificate, and keep a few copies for your records.
  • Monitor their credit report periodically for any suspicious activity.
  • Request several certified copies of the death certificate from the coroner or mortuary.
  • Close all open and active accounts in your loved one’s name as soon as possible. In the event that their bank accounts have outstanding transactions or activity, ensure the bank has flagged the account noting that the owner is now deceased.
  • Provide the IRS, government agencies, and mortgage companies with a copy of the death records to ensure there is no fraudulent tax return or activity used with their identity.
  • If possible, sign up for identity theft protection with your loved one’s information to ensure any suspicious activity is alerted to you quickly and rectified easily.

Ghosting identity theft FAQs


How can I find the SSN of a deceased parent?

If you cannot locate or retrieve your deceased loved one’s Social Security card, you still have options to obtain a copy of their card through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). According to the SSA website, you can use form SSA-711 to request the record for a deceased individual. There is currently a $30 fee to request a physical record of the SSA application or $28 for a digital copy.


Can I check the credit report of a deceased person?

According to, only spouses and estate executors can request a copy of the deceased person’s credit report. It is recommended to submit the request by mail, as all three credit reporting agencies require a physical copy of the death certificate to honor the request.


How do I report someone's death to Social Security?

Often when a loved one passes away, the funeral director or another member of the funeral home coordinating the memorial services is the party that will notify the SSA. However, family members, spouses, or executors who do not opt for a memorial service can contact the SSA directly to report the person's death.

Bottom line

Identity theft continues to be a growing issue in today’s digitally-driven society. As recently as 2021, the FTC reported there were nearly 5.7 million cases of identity theft.[2] Of that estimate, it’s likely that millions of deceased individuals and their families are victims of this scam.[3]

Losing a loved one is difficult enough without the added stress and anxiety of navigating their identity being stolen. However, with these measures, you can help prevent and mitigate ghosting identity theft from happening to you and your family. To learn more about other ways you can protect your family from identity theft, we recommend reading about child identity theft and taking a peek at our guide to the best ID theft protection services.

Editorial Rating
Learn More
On Aura Identity Theft's website
Identity Protection
Aura Identity Theft
Up to 68% off Family Annual Plans
  • Excellent identity theft protection service
  • Includes a password manager and VPN
  • Robust tools for children’s security

Author Details
Amanda is a technical content writer based in Illinois, USA. She has a Master of Science in Cybersecurity. After years of working in the tech and cybersec field, she pivoted her career to content marketing and writing within these industries.


[1] Identity Theft Is on the Rise, Both in Incidents and Losses

[2] 2023 Identity Theft Facts and Statistics

[3] Obituary Scams