As odd as it seems, the deceased are no longer exempt from being victims of identity theft in today’s age.
A form of identity theft called ghosting includes the theft of identity, and sometimes even role in society, of a person who is not widely known to be deceased. The “ghoster”, or person who steals the identity, is often similar in age in order to attain accuracy in compliance with documents citing the birthdate of the victim. The idea is that ghosting allows identity thieves to obtain a passport or Social Security benefits from the deceased’s identity due to the presumptions that government agencies rarely cross-check the identity’s history for a death certificate. These types of thieves aim to completely step into an identity of a deceased person already listed in government records for ongoing, and often lifelong, use
While many identity thieves seek to exploit the stolen identities of individuals who are living for financial gain, ghosting elicits a different kind of motive. Many times, ghosters come from backgrounds with criminal pasts and are driven to attempting to take a new identity in order to gain a fresh start in their lives with no prior criminal record. These thieves may work to actually maintain good credit ratings in their new identity, versus other identity thieves who seek to exploit their victim’s credit ratings.
Databases such as the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File and Social Security Death Index served as goldmine for identity thieves seeking a deceased victim’s social security numbers and dates of birth and death. This was a good place for ghosters to start obtaining their information. Now, more security measures have been put into place to restrict and monitor access to this info making it more difficult for ghosters.
Additionally, modern technology has hindered the ghosting efforts more so with the use of modern imaging for fingerprinting. Despite this, there are any identity thieves who frequently seek out obituaries and purchase the personal information off of the internet for their next victims.
While ghosters are stealthy in their acts, there are preventative measures one can take to ensure that their loved ones’ identities remain safe. For instance, being careful about the information posted in an obituary is a good step. Ghosters often seek out obituaries for people who have similar characteristics as them.
Additionally, it is important to close all financial, medical, government, and online accounts of the deceased person in order to prevent theft by informing all agencies of the person’s death. Similarly, keeping all personal documents, identification, and records safe is imperative to preventing thieves from obtaining these valuable documents for their advantage.
Most ghosters steal the identities of the dead in order to run away from their own identities and create a new life for themselves. Advances in technology and security are progressively being made to hinder the processes ghosters use in committing this crime.
Now, ghosting is perceived as a much more serious crime that is more aggressively prosecuted which designates the ghoster to a higher risk of being caught.