Protect your loved one's estate from identity fraud

We all know that thanks to the wide availability of personal information online identity fraud is increasing. But what happens when an identity is stolen after a person has died? Often, no one notices due to the natural grieving process and the sometimes overwhelming responsibilities that come with settling a person’s estate.

Unfortunately, posthumous identity theft is a real problem. It’s important to know how to protect the estate of your loved ones so their data is not exploited by criminals.

How Do Criminals Find the Information?

Criminals are often well-organised and work diligently to identify potential targets for posthumous identity theft. Databases of details such as full names, birthdates and addresses exist online for purchase. It’s possible that only small amounts of additional detail are required for identities to be stolen. People who have died make tempting targets as the theft can go unnoticed for a long time.

The next section outlines how you can reduce the amount of personal information available in the public domain for criminals to scavenge. Prior to the invention of the internet, criminals were known to crawl through rubbish bins to steal documents with personal details listed. This is still a concern when grieving relatives are required to clear a deceased relative’s home. So any documents that need to be discarded should first be shredded or destroyed before disposal. See below for more information on shredding documents.

With enough personal information in hand, thieves can use the deceased’s identity to open new accounts and lines of credit, take over existing accounts, and/or collect benefits in the victim’s name.

How to limit personal information in the public sphere

Losing a loved one is very difficult, and often emotions can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, it’s critical that one family member is made responsible for managing the estate of the deceased family member. This may be the nominated executor of the estate. Here is a list of things that should be taken care of promptly. Some of these actions can only be undertaken after an official death certificate is secured, so make it a priority to have the paperwork completed. 

  • Create a list of known bank accounts, credit cards, financial involvements and insurance policies. Get in contact with each provider and close or cancel the accounts and ask them to note that the cardholder is deceased.
  • Use the government’s Tell Us Once service to notify multiple government departments of a death. This will cancel the person’s passport, driver’s licence and social benefits, and remove them from the electoral roll, along with notifying other relevant departments.
  • If you have access to them, edit any social media accounts to remove personal information, or delete them. Some networks allow people to ‘memorialise’ the accounts so they cannot be altered but accessed by previous contacts.

There are also physical things you can take care of.

  • Secure the person’s wallet as soon as you’re able. It’s not unheard of for identity documents to be stolen by unscrupulous support staff,
  • Host the wake in a location anywhere except the person’s home. Unfortunately some thieves target wakes to steal valuable items and documents while the families are distracted,
  • Ask the post office to hold the mail if the person lived alone or in supervised care. This prevents sensitive information from sitting in an unsecured mailbox,
  • Restrict the information you include in any public obituaries. Omit details such as their maiden name, birthdate and full address so the public can’t use the information to their own ends,
  • As mentioned above, shred and destroy any documents that contain personal details or NI number. Do not throw them out without first making them unusable by thieves.

What document shredding should you do?

If your loved one lived alone, as soon after the death as possible, put all their papers and files together in boxes and take them away from the empty property. Before you shred anything, ensure all personal documents are secured and kept together to enable you to go through them and identity which need to be kept and which destroyed. This is not an easy task - it can feel as if you are removing all trace of your loved one's existence, so do this with a friend or other member of the family. 

What to shed? The easy answer – anything that has a signature, account number, NI number, or medical or legal information (plus credit offers).

The complete answer – Ensure you keep legal documents that relate to your loved one's estate together (including leases, investments, pension details) and give these to the Executor. However, you should shred the following; 

  • Address labels from junk mail and magazines
  • ATM receipts
  • Bank statements
  • Birth certificate copies not originals
  • Canceled and voided cheques
  • Credit and charge card bills, carbon copies, summaries and receipts
  • Credit reports and histories
  • Documents containing the maiden name (used by credit card companies for security reasons)
  • Documents containing names, addresses, phone numbers or e-mail addresses
  • Documents containing passwords or PIN numbers
  • Driver’s licenses or items with a driver’s license number
  • Employee pay stubs
  • Employment records
  • Expired passports and visas
  • Un-laminated identification cards 
  • Items with a signature (leases, contracts, letters)
  • Luggage tags
  • Medical and dental records
  • Papers with a NI number
  • Pre-approved credit card applications
  • Receipts 
  • Resumés or curriculum vitae
  • Tax forms
  • Transcripts
  • Travel itineraries
  • Used airline tickets
  • Utility bills (telephone, gas, electric, water, cable TV, Internet) once property bills have been paid.

Credit bureau details

You should consider contacting a credit bureau individually to place a ‘deceased alert’ on their credit file. This should stop all lenders from issuing new loans in your loved one’s name. Use secured or registered mail to post a certified copy of the death certificate, and a letter including the person’s full name, any past names including previous married and maiden names, NI number, dates of birth and death, and last 5 years of addresses.

Contact credit bureau Experian by phone 0344 481 8000 or online at

Of course, we would advise everyone to create a list of account, pension and policy details and keep it up to date throughout your life. This will help your executors and family deal with your affairs more easily after your death.