Even in grief identity theft can strike us and affect our credit file and the clear credit file of those we leave behind. Grieving relatives may need to protect themselves and their loved one’s good name against this fraud, following a recent spate of identity theft of deceased individuals.

By Graham Doessel, Founder and CEO of MyCRA Credit Repairs and www.fixmybadcredit.com.au.

There are so many things to think about when someone dies and it is very unfair that grieving relatives need to think about possible identity fraud on top of everything else, but the fact is it may be necessary to protect not only their memory, but the good credit file of the living.

Last year a Sydney court sentenced a man and a woman to two years jail for identity theft.

The Courier Mail ran details of the story in September last year, in which the court heard the couple “spent nine years trawling cemeteries across Australia collecting the details of dead people, with Queensland targets including a disabled man and a baby less than two days old.”

“The couple created fake “identity kits” using the details of the deceased, including bogus passports, Medicare cards, drivers’ licences and bank accounts, which they sold to criminals for up to $30,000 each”, the story said.

In October, The Australian ran a story ‘Backlog of births, death records prone to identity theft’, detailing the possible prevalence of these instances of ID Theft. It told of data processing backlogs at some government birth, deaths and marriages registries that have left the door open for fraudsters to assume the identities of dead Australians.

The fixing of the identity loophole had been delayed by a dispute with developer UXC, whose contract with the NSW Registry was terminated in 2009. The registry said it had received $2.9 million in damages as a result.

A new contract had now been negotiated with Objective Consulting for $11.4m, with the first release of a new registry due in June next year.

Queensland too is yet to digitise its birth, death and marriages records to enable automatic cross-checking between births and deaths data.

“The project is currently in the final stages of contract negotiation with digitisation currently scheduled to run from early 2012 to 2014,” a Queensland Births, Deaths and Marriages Registry spokeswoman said.

Queensland’s 2009-10 budget had allocated $20.8m for digitisation of records.

The spokeswoman said when digitised, its operators would be required to complete an electronic search of Queensland death records before releasing a birth certificate.

Software developer John Doolan, who has worked with birth, deaths and marriages registries across the Australian eastern seaboard for more than 20 years, said the enormous backlog in unmatched birth and death records was a headache.

“We are aware of cases of false identities that have been created and stolen,” said Mr Doolan, the chief executive of KE Software, which has different versions of its software operating in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania.

The ability of a person involved in immigration fraud, tax evasion, social security rorts and even terrorism to obtain a legitimate birth certificate by using a dead person’s identity is still possible at these registries.

While states are rushing to digitise this process, relatives should be aware of how a deceased person’s personal information could be compromised, and act quickly to protect their  credit file and good name in death.

– Relatives can start by obtaining several copies of their loved one’s death certificate, and providing one to each credit reporting agency in Australia. The credit reporting agency can then ‘flag’ the credit file so that no future credit is issued in that name.

– Also pay particular attention to how much information is given away in the obituary. As in life, in death, personal information is a valuable commodity. Restrict the publication of any details which could allow fraudsters to piece together details to create a false identity.

– It is also important to provide a death certificate to financial institutions and notify all other credit facilities of the death, particularly where joint accounts may be involved. This could prevent the other person attached to the joint account of the deceased having their clear credit file compromised by possible identity theft.

If fraudsters gain access to someone’s good name – living or dead they may be able to drain bank accounts, or open new lines of credit in the person’s name.

Often people don’t find out about the identity fraud until they attempt to take out credit and then find out they have a bad credit score due to a series of defaults they have no knowledge of. It was reported that in the case heard by the Sydney courts, the names of the deceased were used to create false Medicare cards, birth certificates, drivers’ licences, bank accounts and credit cards. Forged documentation and identities were sold to criminals, including members of the Lone Wolf bikie gang, so they could apply for passports.

Any kind of credit account (from mortgages and credit cards through to mobile phone accounts) which remains unpaid past 60 days can be listed as a default by creditors on the victim’s credit rating, and those defaults remain there for 5 years.

Relatives left with the task of trying to repair the credit file of their deceased, particularly the credit files of joint account owners can find the task a difficult one. To restore the clear credit file the identity theft victim needs to prove to creditors they did not initiate the credit. Not only are victims generally required to produce police reports, but large amounts of documentary evidence to substantiate to creditors the case of identity theft.

If people need help credit rebuilding and restoring credit activeness following identity theft, please contact MyCRA Credit Repairs tollfree on 1300 667 218 or visit the main website www.mycra.com.au

Credit rebuilding is not easy for anyone to undertake themselves, particularly those who are facing grief. Many times when restoring credit individuals will be told that listings can be marked as paid, but this does not give the victim a clear credit file.

Using a credit repairer skilled in credit reporting legislation will help to enforce rules creditors are bound to comply with, and coupled with negotiations will ensure the best chance at a clear credit file.

Image: Arvind Balaraman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net