Death Fraud

This Identity Theft is Alive and Kicking

By Cheryl B. Hyder;Christine L. Warner



  “Grandma! What big sunglasses you have!” In the fuzzy photo shown here, taken with a security camera at a department of motor vehicles’ office in New York City, the elderly woman is actually a man impersonating his deceased mother. Thomas Parkin (shown in a wig and big sunglasses) defrauded the U.S. government out of more than $100,000 by stealing his mother’s identity after she died. Parkin’s accomplice, the man to the right in the photo, posed as a helpful nephew.

Parkin committed the fraud by giving his mother’s funeral home an incorrect date of birth and Social Security number (SSN) for her and then using the actual identification numbers to steal her monthly $700 Social Security benefits and rent subsidies.1

Death can be big business for fraudsters. Imagine the societal consequences if theft of decedents’ identities becomes mainstream. A caregiver, entrusted with financial oversight for an ailing loved one or client, could obtain and use that person’s identification for illicit purposes. Or a physician could use a deceased physician’s SSN and then bill insurance companies for services never rendered to the decedent’s former patients.

These actual cases, playing out across the globe, often remain under the radar until it’s too late and damage has been done. Using a decedent’s SSN is really nothing more than an emerging form of identity theft.

In this article, we’ll:
• Describe identity theft in its native forms
• Explain the concept of death fraud and introduce the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Death Master File (DMF)
• Explore the evolution of death fraud
• Propose proactive measures to employ in your practice and to suggest to your clients for their protection

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