Prevention Tools

 

 


PREVENTION TOOLS

 Identity Theft is a real problem.  In the Denver District Attorney's Office, we say, “It is not if but when you will become a victim of Identity theft.”  In many cases it will be something easily resolved and you will not suffer any actual financial losses – for example, having your credit card used without your consent. Unfortunately for some, identity theft will create real headaches, compromise financial security, and take hundreds of hours and many years to resolve.


Freeze Your Credit File
Informed Consent for Seniors
How to Protect a Deceased Loved One from Identity Theft

Freeze Your Credit File

Since 2006, Coloradoans have had the right to place a security freeze on their credit files.   A security freeze is an effective tool in preventing the most costly and difficult-to-detect form of identity theft ― false new accounts opened in your name. “New account fraud” occurs when a thief uses the victim's personal information, such as a social security number, to open up one or more new accounts for credit or services in the victim's name. The bills, of course, don’t go to the victim’s address.  The consumer learns of these new accounts during routine inquiries into their credit score, trying to open a new credit account or when they are contacted by debt collectors.  A Credit File Freeze prevents the sharing of your credit file by the three Consumer Credit Reporting Agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – with potential creditors. 

How does a Credit File Freeze work?
Before opening a new account, most reputable creditors evaluate the creditworthiness of the applicant by checking the consumer credit report or credit score. A security freeze stops potential creditors from seeing the consumer's credit report and credit score.   The freeze stops thieves from establishing new accounts because the potential creditor is unable access the “would be” victim’s credit file.

How do I place a security freeze?
Requests must be in writing and sent by certified mail to each of the three major consumer credit reporting agencies:

Equifax Security Freeze

Experian Security Freeze

TransUnion Security Freeze

PO Box 105788

PO Box 9554

PO Box 6790

Atlanta, GA 30348

Allen, TX 75013

Fullerton, CA  92834

You must include:

  • Full name, with middle initial and generation, such as Jr., Sr., III;
  • Social Security number;
  • Date of birth;
  • Current address and previous addresses for the past two years.
  • Copy of a government issued ID, such as a driver’s license or military ID;
  • Copy of a utility bill, bank or insurance statement that displays your name, current mailing address, and date of issue (statement must be recent).

Can I open new credit accounts if my files are frozen?
Yes.  If you want to open a new credit account, you can lift the freeze for a specific creditor or period of time.  When you initially freeze your files, you will receive a letter with instructions on how to lift your freeze as well as a unique PIN from each of the agencies.  You can lift the freeze by phone using your PIN and proper identifying information.

Is there a fee to freeze my credit files?

  • The initial security freeze is free of charge; however, the temporary lift or permanent removal of the freeze will cost up to $10 per agency. In Colorado, identity theft victims can lift and replace their credit file freeze as many times as they like free of charge. 

Who should freeze their file?

  • Everyone:  Anyone who doesn’t anticipate needing to expand or establish new credit in the immediate future should consider a credit file freeze.  This is especially applicable to senior citizens. 
  • Identity Theft Victims: If you have already been a victim of “new account identity theft,” you should strongly consider placing a security freeze. Your misused personal information can be sold and traded among criminals, so that after you solve an identity theft problem, it can happen again months or years later.
  • Security Breach Notices: If your company or government agency has had an internal security breach which included your Social Security number, you may be at higher risk of identity theft. The security freeze will stop a thief who has your Social Security number from using it to open new accounts in your name.
  • Stolen mail or trash: If your mail has been stolen or your trash has been scavenged, this may be an indication that you’ve been targeted for identity theft.

It is impossible to prevent 100% becoming victimized by identity theft.  However, by taking some preventative steps like freezing your credit file, being diligent about keeping track of your accounts, and protecting your information – you can greatly reduce your risk of identity theft as well as mitigating the fall out when it happens.  Please call the Denver District Attorney's Fraud line if you have questions, concerns, or to report fraud – 720-913-9179.

Informed Consent for Seniors

The Denver District Attorney’s office sees far too many victims who have had their life savings stolen by a family member, caregiver, or acquaintance through intimidation, deceit, or manipulation.  Frequently, bank and credit union employees are the first to notice when a customer’s account is at risk. However, even if they suspect someone is at risk, financial institutions cannot release information that could be used to stop the criminal due to important confidentiality requirements.  Often a person’s money is gone by the time anyone is able to intervene.

In 2000, the Colorado legislature passed Colorado Revised Statute 26-3.1-206 whereby anyone over 60 or any “at-risk” adult may request and voluntarily sign an “Informed Consent Form” to be placed in their customer file. This voluntary action by the customer grants permission to their financial institution to release information about any future suspicious account activity to appropriate agencies for the limited purpose of investigating known or suspected financial exploitation.  

What to do next:

  • Request an Informed Consent Form (ICF) from your financial institution. If your bank/credit union is unfamiliar with these forms, use this link to find an example of a form your institution may accept. Alerts_and Tips/Consent to Release_ Information Form.pdf
  • Fill out the information, sign it and instruct your financial institution to place it in your customer file for future use, should the need arise.

Remember, your financial institution is required by Colorado Statute to comply with your request for Informed Consent.  If they have any questions, please refer them to the Denver District Attorney's Office 720-913-9179.

Hopefully, you will never need it – but better safe than sorry.

How to Protect a Deceased Loved One from Identity Theft
 
There are a number of ways that Identity thieves can personal obtain information about deceased individuals. 

  • Monitor obituary pages,
  • Steal death certificates,
  • Accessing Social Security Death Index file over the internet,
  • Take advantage of a family member - especially if the deceased suffered from lengthy illness, mental confusion, or family members discord prior to the death.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) is responsible for maintaining the Death Master File and transmitting that information to the credit reporting agencies (CRAs).  Unfortunately, the process does not work in a timely manner.  Until the SSA or private individuals notify the (CRAs) and creditors, the active credit file of the deceased will remain open for up to 10 years which gives a thief a perfect opportunity.
The following steps are recommended by the Denver District Attorney's Office and the Identity Theft Resource Center for all deaths, regardless of age of the deceased. We recommend that notification to CRA’s first be made by telephone and must be followed-up in writing. Mail all correspondence certified, return receipt requested. Keep photocopies of all correspondence.

  • Obtain a minimum of 12 copies of the official death certificate. In some cases you will be able to use a photocopy, but some businesses will request an original death certificate. Since many death records are public, a business may require more than just a death certificate as proof.
  • Immediately notify relevant credit card companies, banks, stock brokers, loan/lien holders, and mortgage companies of the death. The executor or surviving spouse will need to discuss all outstanding debts and how they will be dealt with. Accounts will need to be either transferred to another individual or closed. If the account is closed, it should be designated as: “Closed. Account holder is deceased.” 
  • Immediately contact the CRAs in writing and request a “deceased” alert be placed on their credit report. You may use the letter form outlined below. You should also request a copy of the credit report.
  • If there is a surviving spouse or other joint account holders, make sure to notify the company that deceased’s name needs to be removed from the account. They may require a copy of the death certificate to do this, as well as permission from the survivor, or other authorized account holders.
  • Contact all credit issuers, collection agencies, the CRAs and any other financial institution that needs to know of the death using the required procedures for each one. The following are some general information and tips:
     
    Include the following information on all letters:
    • Name and SSN of deceased
    • Last known address
    • Last 5 years of addresses
    • Date of birth
    • Date of death
    • To speed up processing, include all requested documentation specific to that agency in the first letter.
    • Send all mail certified, return receipt requested.
    • Keep copies of all correspondence, noting date sent and any response(s) you receive.
    • Contact each of the CRAs. Request a copy of the decedent’s credit report. A review of each report will let you know of any active credit accounts that still need to be closed, or any pending collection notices. Be sure to ask for all contact information on accounts currently open in the name of the deceased (credit granters, collection agencies, etc) so that you can follow though with those entities.
    • Request that the report is flagged with the following alert: “Deceased. Do not issue credit. If an application is made for credit, notify the following person(s) immediately: (list the next surviving relative, executor/trustee of the estate and/or local law enforcement agency- noting the relationship).”
    • Friends, neighbors or distant relatives do not have the same rights as a spouse or executor of the estate. They are classified as a third party and a CRA may not mail out a credit report or change data on a consumer file upon their request. If you fall into this classification and are dealing with a very unique situation, you may write to the CRA and explain the situation. They are handled on a case-by-case basis. 
  • Other groups to notify:
    • Social Security Administration
    • Insurance companies – auto, health, life, etc.
    • Veteran’s Administration - if the person was a former member of the military
    • Immigration Services - if the decedent is not a U.S. citizen
    • Department of Motor Vehicles if the person had a driver’s license or state ID card. Also make sure that any vehicle registration papers are transferred to the new owners
    • Agencies that may be involved due to professional licenses – bar association, medical licenses, cosmetician, etc.
    • Any membership programs- video rental, public library, fitness club, etc,

Specific Instructions from the 3 Credit Reporting Agencies
Experian:
PO Box 9701
Allen, TX 75013.

  • Ordering Reports
  • A spouse can obtain a credit report by simply making the request through the regular channels -mail, phone and Internet. The spouse is legally entitled to the report.
    • The executor of the estate can obtain a credit report but must write Experian with a specific request, a copy of the executor paperwork and the death certificate.
  • Requesting changes or voicing concerns
    • A spouse or executor may change the file to show the person as deceased via written request. A copy of the death certificate and in the case of the executor, the executor's paperwork must be included with the request.
    • After any changes, Experian will send an updated credit report to the spouse or executor for confirmation that a deceased statement has been added to the credit report. This is important as executors and spouse can request other types of “changes” that we may not be able to honor.
    • If ID Theft is a stated concern, Experian will add a security alert after the file has been changed to reflect the person as deceased.
    • If there are additional concerns, Experian will add a general statement to the file at the direction of the spouse/executor. The spouse/executor must state specifically what they want the general statement to say, such as "Do not issue credit." 
       

Equifax
Equifax Information Services LLC
Office of Consumer Affairs
P.O. Box 105169,
Atlanta, GA 30348

  • To Order a credit report
    • Equifax requests that the spouse, attorney or executor of the estate submit a written request to receive a copy of the deceased consumer’s' file. The request should include the following:
    • A copy of a notarized document stating that the requestor is authorized to handle the deceased consumer’s affairs (ie: Order from a Probate Court or Letter of Testamentary)
  • For Requests or changes:
  • Equifax requests that a spouse, attorney or executor of the estate submit a written request if they would like to place a deceased indicator on the deceased consumer’s file. The written request should include a copy of the consumer’s death certificate. The request should be sent to the address listed above.
     
    Upon receipt of the death certificate, Equifax will attempt to locate a file for the deceased consumer and place a death notice on the consumer’s file. In addition, Equifax will place a seven year promotional block on the deceased consumer’s file. Once Equifax’s research is complete, they will send a response back to the spouse, attorney, or executor of the estate. 
     

TransUnion (TU)
PO Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834.

  • Ordering reports:
    • TU requires proof of a power of attorney, executor of estate, conservatorship or other legal document giving the requestor the legal right to obtain a copy of the decedent's credit file.
    • If the requestor was married to the deceased and the address for which the credit file is being mailed to is contained on the decedent's credit file, then TU will mail a credit file to the surviving spouse.
    • If the deceased is a minor child of the requestor, TU will mail a credit file to the parent upon receipt of a copy of the birth certificate or death certificate naming the parent as requestor.
  • Requesting changes or voicing concerns
  • Placing a "decease alert" on reports: TU will accept a request to place a temporary alert on the credit file of a deceased individual from any consumer who makes such a request and identifies themselves as having a right to do so.
  • The requestor's phone number is added to the temporary, three month alert. Upon receipt of a verifiable death certificate, TU will entirely suppress the decedent's credit file and so note it as a deceased consumer.
  • TU will not mail out a copy of its contents without the requirements mentioned above.
  • If you suspect fraud, TU suggests a call to their fraud unit at 800-680-7289. It will place the temporary alert over the phone and advise the requestor of what needs to be sent to suppress the credit file and to disclose a copy of its contents. Requests can also be emailed to fvad@transunion.com.

If the surviving spouse or estate executor suspects fraudulent activity involving a deceased person:

  • Request a copy of the decedent’s credit report.
  • Place a “deceased alert” on the report as outlined above.
  • Notify the police in the decedent’s jurisdiction if you have evidence of fraud (collection notice, bills, credit report). A suspicion (especially of identity theft by a family member) is best when backed with concrete evidence. 
  • Notify any creditor, collection agency, credit issuer, utility company that the person is deceased and date of death. Be sure to include a copy of the death certificate. Request an immediate investigation and that they contact you with the results of the investigation. Insist on letters of clearance, which you should keep with the other estate papers.