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How to Write an Obituary That is ID Theft Proof

April 27, 2017

In the week or so after a loved one dies, you or another family member will likely be tasked with writing the obituary. Summing up a person’s life is an immense, if not impossible, task. But these days finding the right words is only one of the challenges—preventing identity theft is perhaps equally important.

Believe it or not, criminals steal the identities of about 2,200 deceased Americans each day, using stolen data to file fraudulent tax returns, apply for loans and credit card accounts, and much more. This most heartless of crimes even has an eerie name: ghosting.

Obituaries provide one of the easiest ways for thieves to steal personal data from deceased individuals. Too often, these personal biographies—which are likely to appear in print as well as remaining online for years—include all sorts of sensitive information that can be used to perpetrate fraud.

If you or someone you know needs to write an obituary, go ahead and give the age of the deceased. But leave out these key details:

  • Middle name
  • Birth date
  • Birthplace
  • Mother’s maiden name
  • Home address

Remember that criminals can acquire personal information from a variety of sources, including social media and online people search sites. Adult children can also be put at risk as a mother’s obituary often includes her maiden name, which is a common security question. Even if the obituary only gives away a couple of additional details, those may be the missing pieces a criminal needs to fill out a credit card application or sign up for a cellphone account in the deceased’s name.

Writing an obituary for a loved one is a beautiful and generous act. And, while it would be nice if it weren’t necessary, making sure that the obituary also protects the person’s identity is another way to honor and protect their memory.

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