intro: Your lost loved one's financial identity could come back to life in a most unsettling way -- 2.5 million deceased Americans' identities are misused every year, according to ID Analytics, an ID theft risk assessment company. The company's research arm compared the names, Social Security numbers and birthdays listed on applications for credit against the Social Security Administration's master file of deaths to come up with those numbers.

ID Analytics says crooks intentionally steal the identities of about 800,000 deceased Americans each year. The company says identity thieves also make up Social Security numbers, and inadvertently make matches with about 1.6 million people a year who have died. In addition, ID Analytics detected a disturbing pattern of theft of financial information belonging to people who were dying. It's easy to see how that could happen, since people who are gravely ill can easily lose track of the details of their finances.

When you break it down, ID Analytics says con artists use dead people's identities more than 2,000 times a day. "This study brings to light a significant problem," said Stephen Coggeshall, chief technology officer of ID Analytics. "Surviving family members can also be the victims of this identity fraud, as they are left to manage the estates of their deceased loved ones."

How can this hurt the living? For one thing, grieving people don't need additional stress. More specifically, if a loved one's identity is stolen and thieves open up credit accounts in their name, the banks that issued the credit are going to want to be paid. They could well come after the dead person's relatives for their money. While this is upsetting, bear in mind that surviving family members are not obligated to pay their dead relatives' debts if their own names are not on the accounts. You definitely shouldn't have to pay a fraudulent debt racked up by crooks.

Here are seven practical steps you can take to protect your lost loved one's financial identity:

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• Get a certified copy of their death certificate that you can present to businesses, as needed. quicklist: title: text:

• Fill out the paperwork to alert the Social Security Administration to the death.

quicklist: title: text: • File your loved one's final tax return. Yes, death and taxes are the two guarantees in life, and in this case they overlap. quicklist: title: text:

• Contact the big three credit bureaus and inform them that your family member has died. They are:

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• Request copies of your relative's credit reports from all three bureaus soon after they've died to make sure you are aware of every open account they have. You can do this for free at: If you want to be thorough, check again a year later to make sure no new accounts have been opened in the deceased's name.

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• Write to every bank, brokerage, mortgage company, credit card company, and any other creditors informing them of your relative's death. quicklist: text:

• Contact your relatives life insurance company, health insurance company and also auto insurance company, and let them know of the death.