As Halloween nears, we thought a ghost story would be a good idea. But, this isn’t about Casper or ghosts in the traditional sense at all. This is a new kind of haunting, one that can linger long after death if not exorcised properly. But, before you run off to the nearest Holy Water supply, let me explain just what a digital ghost is, how they impact data security, and how to prevent them from haunting you.
First, let’s set the stage for our haunting. Take a minute to consider all the online accounts you have: email, social media, credit card, online shopping, online utility, and any other kind. Now consider what is stored in each of these accounts: your name, address, phone, email address, credit card info, order history, personal info, and every other kind of data organizations collect. How many logins and passwords do you have? Probably more than you can count. But, what happens when you shuffle loose of your mortal coil? What happens to all of your information? BOO! Enter the digital ghost.
A digital ghost is the digital presence left behind when someone passes away. It’s the digital footprint that exists after we cease to and it can be a nightmare for the people we leave behind. It can lead to legal issues, identity theft and data security breaches. So how do you prevent your digital ghost from haunting your successors? An article from Avvo tells us more:
There is an easy way to save those left behind from digging through desk drawers and notepads to retrieve logins and passwords: full disclosure of user names and passwords in your estate documents or, at the very least, a list of all digital accounts, from tax documents to online banking, streaming video and music services to photo sites, computer passwords to email accounts – and, the permission to access them.
Andrew Nitkewicz, a partner with Cullen and Dykman, offers a reason for including digital account information in the estate planning documents. “Most of us do not precisely know every single social media account, web-based service provider account, online shopping account, email account, application, or other digital account held by our closest friends and relatives. Even if we did, accessing those accounts without having each of the decedent’s ever-changing passwords can be near impossible. An estate representative may have to serve the companies with a subpoena simply to gain access to the account, verify the debt, and close the account. This can be very costly.”
“Closing or removing accounts can help prevent identity theft, protect against unauthorized access into financial and non-financial accounts, and prevent assets from going to unclaimed funds, which can create administrative difficulties many years down the road,” says Sarah Rebosa, a partner with the New York firm Cullen and Dykman.
Digital ghosts can wreak havoc on a person’s estate long after they have died. “If pending litigation continues after death, social media can provide an offensive tool against the decedent. If a will contest occurs, surviving family members can gain valuable insight that they would otherwise not have access to, and which could ultimately fuel objections to the decedent’s estate plan,” says Rebosa.
“Identity theft is a major issue in the digital world. Sadly, this obstacle does not necessarily get easier to hurdle upon death. Estates often become targets for criminals stealing identities,” says Nitkewicz. “By using public records such as newspaper articles and obituaries, the identity of the decedent – as well as other personal information which is helpful in gaining access to digital accounts – is used to open digital accounts, access existing accounts, obtain credit cards, and incur other debt on behalf of the unwitting estate representative.”
Pretty scary, right? We think so too. We give lots of advice about storing passwords and restricting access to your accounts for the sake of data security. But this is one instance where sharing your info with your estate planner is encouraged. Your data is valuable in life and death, and you should protect it as such. At Great Lakes Computer, keeping your data secure is important to us.