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Thieves could steal identity through death certificates

CINCINNATI (Howard Ain) -- Rest in peace is apparently a phrase some thieves ignore.

Lindsey Reichheld, a fraud victim, says she felt helpless when she learned the identity of her wife, Amy, had been stolen after her recent death.

"This shouldn't fall on loved ones. There is not much I can do," she says. "It looked like somebody had been requesting death certificates and stealing those identities from the information on the death certificates."

When Lindsey called her town to find out who may have requested a copy of Amy's death certificate. She was surprised by the answer.

"Anyone can walk in and they don't track it, and I said, "Really?" and they said, "Yes, it's public record"," says Lindsey.

But she disagrees.

"Her death may be public record, but all that information you're handing out for $10 is not public record."

Most death certificates contain the full names of parents of the deceased as well as addresses and date of birth.
An astute town clerk called inspectors after realizing they had a large amount of requests for death certificates.For just $10 identity thieves can get a copy of any death certificate.

"Once they accessed that information on the death certificate they went to postal service filed out a change of address form and actually got the mail diverted from the deceased individual to their residence," says Brian Evans, a U.S. Postal inspector.

Once they have access to the personal bank and credit card accounts of victims they could drain the bank accounts or make charges on the credit cards.

"Actually these people in some cases, the victims' families were losing money and they couldn't even pay for the funeral," says Evans.

In this case, there were almost a dozen victims and the losses added up to tens of thousands of dollars.

"This criminal took advantage of you when you're at your most vulnerable state both emotionally and possibly financially," says Evans.

"It's a very devious and fairly smart way of stealing someone's identity because they are not there to care. Amy isn't going to get on the phone and say, "I didn't open this credit card, what are you talking about?" says Lindsey.

Postal inspectors say as soon as a death certified is issued credit bureaus need to be notified. It's also a good idea to cancel the deceased persons driver's license, and don't give out too many details in obituaries.

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