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Identity theft: When millions of dead people apply for credit cards

Identity thieves go beyond the grave in search of victims

By , Network World
April 23, 2012 02:47 PM ET

Network World - Seems that the threat of identity theft doesn't end, even with death. Identity thieves apply for millions of credit cards per year using personal information of the deceased, a study shows.

The identification data for nearly 2.5 million dead people -- names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers -- are used by criminals to fill out credit card applications each year, according to a study performed by ID Analytics.

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The majority of those -- about 1.6 million -- are typos made by identity thieves when entering Social Security Numbers, and thereby flagging matches with SSNs listed in the Social Security Administration Death Master File, the study says.

The other 800,000 are cases where the thieves intentionally tapped the death rolls for data to fill in the credit applications, according to ID Analytics.

Not all the misuse of data from the Death Master File is intentional, the study says. Sometimes thieves make up names, SSNs and birthdays to fill in fields on payment card applications, and they happen to create identities with partial matches for entrants in the death file.

The results were based on about one-third of actual credit card application data submitted over three months and then extrapolated to a full year.

The study says the thieves use identities of hundreds of thousands more people who are dying based on the number of applications with information from the Death Master File but that were filed before the people actually died.

Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.

Read more about security in Network World's Security section.

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