Is It Illegal to Use Dead People’s Identity?

identity theft

Yes. Identity theft is a crime whether the victim is living or dead. When someone steals a deceased person’s identity, the phenomenon is called “ghosting,” or more simply, deceased identity theft.

Every year, fraudsters use the identities of nearly 2.5 million deceased Americans to open fake credit card accounts, apply for loans, and purchase goods and services. Some even file tax returns under dead people’s identities to steal from the IRS. These crimes often go undetected for as long as 6 months because credit-reporting bureaus, the Social Security Administration (SSA), and financial institutions (like banks) take time to receive, share, and register death records. Also, dead people don’t monitor their credit, nor do the people they leave behind (usually).

Fortunately, grieving family members will not be responsible for fraudulent charges, but ghosting can still cause pain and confusion for those left behind.

What Are the Consequences for Deceased Identity Theft?

New York has some of the most complicated identity theft laws in the nation. In the Empire State, first-and second-degree identity theft can lead to felony charges, but third-degree identity theft may be charged as a misdemeanor offense.

The severity of your charges, however, does depend on who you defraud and how much money you steal, so you are unlikely to face aggravated identity theft charges if you steal from someone who has already passed.

The consequences for identity theft are not different than those for other misdemeanors and felonies (excepting violent crimes). In New York, a Class A misdemeanor can lead to up to $1,000 in fines and up to a year in prison, and felonies can lead to up to 4 years in prison for a Class E felony and 2 to 7 years for a Class D felony.

For more about offenses involving identity theft, please see Section 190.77 of the New York State Penal Code.

What If the “Ghoster” Doesn’t Steal Any Money?

While other forms of identity theft are mostly financially motivated, deceased identity theft can often be used to run from something. So-called “ghosters” often use dead people’s identities to start fresh after a life of crime or evade someone who wants to hurt them. Ghosters may even steal someone’s identity just to buy time.

These cases can take longer to detect, but they are still crimes. While a new identity can protect you for some time, it will eventually be found out.

If you have a valid reason for using a deceased person’s identity, do not try to explain it to the police. Instead, contact an attorney and find out what they can do for you.

At Foley Griffin, we would be honored to help present your side of the story. We have more than 75 years of combined legal experience in criminal defense, and we will treat you with dignity and respect, every step of the way.

Get the attention and care you deserve. Call us at (888) 966-8480 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation today.

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