ORLANDO, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - While the Fosgate Family was mourning the loss of their patriarch, crooks were stealing his identity.
“It was right in the middle of obviously a lot of pain,” said Scott Fosgate, whose father, Joe, passed away in September.
Just days after Joe died, the mail lady in the Fosgate’s neighborhood noticed something wasn’t right.
"My mail carrier came to me and asked me if I was having his mail forwarded for maybe legal reasons or something. I kind of was shocked,” said Carol Fosgate, Joe’s wife.
Carol Fosgate went to the post office and learned that while she was mourning her husband someone stealing his identity. They had all his mail forwarded to Texas. Within a week she had “four brand new credit cards from four banks that we had not been affiliated with before. And later I got a fifth one and one of them had a $39,000 credit limit on it,” she said.
According to one study 2.5 million Americans have their Social Security number and their identities stolen every year. Investigators aren’t sure how Joe’s identity was stolen, but Orlando Police Department detective Michael J. Stevens says thieves often start with obituaries.
"You might have a bit of personal information [in the obituary] and then it's just a matter of trying to figure out where the person lived and trying to put together that dossier of his or her personal information,” Stevens said.
Experts recommend leaving date of birth and mother’s maiden name out of obituaries, along with other bits of information that strangers wouldn’t know, but banks or credit card companies might use to identify someone.
They also recommend sending copies of death certificates to each credit reporting agency as soon as possible.
Fosgate checked out her husband’s credit report and discovered thieves used Joe’s personal information to rent an apartment in Orlando. According to a police report, management at the apartment complex showed detectives a fake checking account in the name of Joseph Fosgate, a photo copy of his driver’s license and a credit application in Fosgate’s name.
Carol won’t be held responsible for any of the thieves actions. She and her son, Scott, hoped sharing their story would save other families frustration. Taking steps to stop identity thieves was not at the top of their list of things to do while they grieved.
"I never did it with my parents. But boy, it is at the top of the list of what my children are supposed to do for me,” Carol Fosgate said.
The IRS offers tips for protecting the identity of someone who has died, here.