Graphic illustration dramatizing thief looting credit cards during someone's online activity

"Ghosting" - Identity Theft of the Deceased

Parker Gallagher Photo Atticus Contributor
Parker Gallagher

“Ghosting” - Identity Theft of the Deceased

Identity theft is quite common in today’s digital age due to the availability of information.

But you already knew that. 

Identity thieves target vulnerable individuals like older or financially illiterate people.

Though you probably already knew that too. 

Did you know that these thieves are also robbing graves? 

Yep, you read that right. 

Identity thieves can be grave robbers, but not like the ones you’ve seen in movies or heard about in Egypt where they get into a pyramid through an underground tunnel and steal all of King Tut’s treasures. 

Illuminated stairway inside tunnel of Egyptian pyramid with hieroglyphics along walls and ceiling

These present day grave robbers are stealing the identity of the deceased through a technique called “Ghosting.”

So, what is Ghosting? 

Great question.

Ghosting is a type of identity theft where the target is a deceased person and it’s usually done for the monetary gain of the thief. 

Thieves can get access to information about deceased individuals through sources like obituaries in newspapers and online like social media profiles. 

Fraudsters can then find more about a deceased person from a simple google search and can often even purchase their social security number online through the dark web. 

Hooded hacker accesses dark web with laptop

From there, possibilities are almost endless for the thief.

Most commonly, bank accounts are taken over, new accounts and cards opened, and fraudulent tax returns can even be filed. 

Sound far fetched? 

Unfortunately not. 

According to a study by ID Analytics’ ID:A Labs, the identities of nearly 2.5 million deceased Americans are improperly used in applications for credit products or services every year. 

In fact, roughly 800,000 of those deceased identities are being targeted intentionally by malicious fraudsters. 

ID:Analytics – newsroom study

Doing some quick math, that is almost 2,200 intentional ghosting attempts every single day. 

Wait, how many? 

Yep, two thousand and two hundred (2,200) intentional attempts...

Every. Single. Day.

That's pretty crazy if you ask us. 

But how is this even possible?

Here’s how it happens.

The estate settlement process often takes 9-12 months (or longer) and there are many things that have to be done along the way like paying bills, closing accounts and much, much more. 

For reference, take a look at this Ultimate Checklist we published outlining the Top 30 Things To Do Following the Loss of a Loved One in 2020. 

Atticus magazine – what to do when someone dies in 2020

Long story short, it takes time to notify all the organizations and institutions that the decedent may have had accounts with. 

That time period when institutions are unaware of the death can be the prime time opportunity for these fraudulent thieves. 

So to help prevent these grave robbers from stealing the identity of your loved one, be sure to notify all institutions that the decedent may have had accounts with as soon as you can. 

Our open call... let's put an end to this.

We hate seeing this happen.

Worrying about identity theft is the last thing any of us should have to worry about while trying to grieve and mourn the loss of a loved one. 

Sadly, some say this is just "a reality" of our increasingly digital world and something that requires a proactive, vigilant approach to avoid. 

But we'd love to help put an end to these intentional ghosting incidents.

(Or at least minimize the amount of attempts.)

So let us know if you have ever experienced a ghosting incident, or have additional tips & best practices for preventing (or catching) these grave robbers from ghosting. 

This ain’t Halloween… No more tricks. No more [stolen] treats. 

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