Don’t Fall Victim to Credit Ghosting

Published: January 29, 2020 by Alison Hillendahl

If you’ve been on the dating scene in the last few years, you’re probably familiar with ghosting. For those of you who aren’t, I’ll save you the trip to Urban Dictionary. “Ghosting” is when the person you’re dating disappears. No calls. No texts. No DMs. They just vanish, never to be heard from again.

As troublesome as this can be, there’s a much more nefarious type of ghosting to be wary of – credit ghosting.

Wait, what’s credit ghosting?

Credit ghosting refers to the theft of a deceased person’s identity. According to the IRS, 2.5 million deceased identities are stolen each year.

The theft often occurs shortly after someone dies, before the death is widely reported to the necessary agencies and businesses. This is because it can take months after a person dies before the Social Security Administration (SSA) and IRS receive, share, or register death records. Additionally, credit ghosting thefts can go unnoticed for months or even years if the family of the deceased does not check their credit report for activity after death.

Opportunistic fraudsters check obituaries and other publicly available death records for information on the deceased. Obituaries often include a person’s birthday, address or hometown, parents’ names, occupation, and other information regularly used in identity verification.

With this information fraudsters can use the deceased person’s identity and take advantage of their credit rating rather than taking the time to build it up as they would have to with other types of fraud. Criminals will apply for credit cards, loans, lines of credit, or even sign up for a cell phone plan and rack up charges before disappearing.

Where did this type of identity theft come from?

Credit ghosting is the result of a few issues. One traces back to a discrepancy noted by the Social Security’s inspector general. In an audit, they found that 6.5 million Social Security numbers for people born before June 16, 1901, did not have a date of death on record in the administration’s Numident (numerical identification) system – an electronic database containing Social Security number records assigned to each citizen since 1936.

Without a date of death properly noted in the database, government agencies and other entities inquiring won’t necessarily know an individual is deceased, making it possible for criminals to implement credit ghosting schemes. Additionally, unreported deaths leave further holes in the system, leading to opportunity for fraudsters.

When financial institutions run checks on the identity information supplied by a fraudster, it can seem legitimate. If the deceased’s credit is in good standing, the fraudster now appears to be a good customer—much like a synthetic identity—but now with the added twist that all of the information is from the same person instead of stitched together from multiple sources. It can take months before the financial institution discovers that the account has been compromised, giving fraudsters ample time to bust out and make off with the funds they’ve stolen.

How can you defend against credit ghosting?

Luckily, unlike your dating pipeline, there are ways to guard against ghosting in your business’ pipeline.

Frontline Defense:

Start by educating your customers. It’s never pleasant to consider your own passing or that of a loved one, but it’s imperative to have a plan in place for both the short and long term. Remind your customers that they should contact lenders and other financial institutions in the event of a death and continue monitoring those accounts into the future.

Relatives of the deceased don’t tend to check credit reports after an estate has been settled. If the proper steps aren’t taken by the family to notify the appropriate creditors of the death, the deceased flag may not be added to their credit report before the estate is closed, leaving the deceased’s information vulnerable to fraud.

By offering your customers assistance and steps to take, you can help ensure that they’re not dealing with the fallout of credit ghosting—like dealing with calls from creditors following up after the fraudster’s bust-out—on top of grieving.

Backend Defense:

Ensure you have the correct tools in place to spot credit ghosts when they try to enter your pipeline. Experian’s Fraud Shield includes high risk indicators and provides a deceased indicator flag so you can easily weed them out. Additionally, you can track other risk indicators like previous uses of a particular Social Security number and identify potential credit-boosting schemes.

Speak to an Experian associate today about how you can increase your defenses against credit ghosting.

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