When a Virginia Beach couple lost their 18-year-old son to a car accident, checking his credit report understandably wasn’t a priority. It wasn’t a thought at all.
But when Virginia and Kenneth Welch went to file Gregory’s taxes shortly after he died in February, they were surprised to see someone already had.
“It was just kind of like being punched in the stomach,” Virginia Welch told the Virginian-Pilot. “It’s such a dishonor to our son.”
Tax fraud is a common kind of identity theft. Brett Montgomery, fraud operations manager at Identity Theft 911, said his company had seen a 600% increase in tax fraud reports during the past three years.
“Crooks start filing anywhere from mid-January on into February,” Montgomery said. “They’re filing the the tax returns as quickly as possible to beat the consumers.”
The Welches said there was no indication Gregory’s identity was used before he died on Valentine’s Day. They only discovered the problem when it was time to file their son’s taxes, and they estimated his refund would have been about $10 from delivering pizzas last year.
The Problem With Tax Fraud
It takes a long time to resolve tax fraud — an average of 240 days from the time the IRS receives the documentation from the consumer, Montgomery said.
That’s a long time for someone trying to recover from identity theft, not to mention grieving loved ones.
Though it may not be the first thought after a family member’s death, obtaining the deceased’s credit report and notifying the credit bureaus of his or her passing is important.
It’s crucial to close social media accounts as well, Montgomery said.
“Thieves are able to branch out and communicate with other people to get information,” he said. Families should limit information published in obituaries, as well, Montgomery said, because fraudsters comb death notices and can use what’s published to obtain more information through public records searches.
When a person dies, the Social Security Administration receives notice, but proactively reaching out to the credit bureaus can’t hurt. If it prevents having to deal with identity theft on top of grief, it’s worth it.
“I wouldn’t say it’s real common,” Montgomery said. “But it does happen.”
And of course, identity theft is a risk for everyone. To help monitor your own credit for signs of identity theft, you should pull your free credit reports every year to look for unauthorized accounts, and keep an eye on your credit score using a free tool like Credit.com’s Credit Report Card.