Death Certificate Used to Steal Woman's Identity
Identity theft, one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States, can include credit card fraud, government identity theft and medical identity theft.
It can also include stealing the identity of someone who has died, as Ohio fraud victim Lindsey Reichheld recently discovered.
While the family of Amy Reichheld mourned her death, the identity thieves got busy. Their strategy was to simply spend $10 to purchase a copy of her death certificate.
When Reichheld inquired about who was behind the purchase, she said a town official told her, "Anyone can walk in and they don't keep track of it."
"I said 'really?' and they said 'Yes, it's public record,'" Reichheld recalled.
She felt helpless when she learned that thieves had so easily stolen Amy's identity.
"Her death might be public record, but all that information you're handing out for $10 is not public record," Reichheld said.
Most death certificates include full names of the deceased, their address and date of birth.
In Reichheld's case, the thieves targeted almost a dozen victims and walked away with tens of thousands of dollars.
U.S. Postal Inspector Brian Evans says he learned of the scam after an alert town clerk called about a large number of requests for death certificates.
"The bad guy in this case went to the obituary page in the local paper, realized that someone was deceased and that they could access their death certificate," he said.
"Once they accessed that information on the death certificate they went to the postal service, filed a change of address form and got the mail diverted from the deceased individual to their residence," he explained.
Evans says the thieves were able to make changes on credit cards and drain bank accounts. The victims' families lost thousands of dollars and in one case, couldn't pay for the funeral.
"It's a fairly devious and smart way to steal someone's identity," Riechheld said, "because Amy's not there to open that mail and say, 'What? I didn't order this credit card! What are you talking about?'"
Postal inspectors say families who have lost a loved one should notify credit bureaus as soon as a death certificate is issued.
They should also limit the amount of personal details in any public obituary and cancel the deceased person's driver license.