There are many obituary death announcement scams and fraud risks that we must consider when one of our loved ones dies and we decide to make public announcements. This is mainly because scammers and con artists are always looking for easy targets to steal their identities and commit various types of scams and fraud. A dead person is less likely to monitor account activities and respond to suspicious and fraudulent activities.
Many families opt to write an obituary or death announcement when a family member has passed. Traditionally, this act serves to celebrate the decedent’s life and memory. However, even the best intentions can come with some dangers. Before preparing your family members’ obituary, take a moment to educate yourself on the risks involved.
In recent years, obituary or death announcement scams, also known as bereavement scams, have become common. For this type of scam, con artists peruse obituaries for biographical information, such as birthdates, hometowns, and names of children, which they can use to commit various forms of fraud. Some examples include:
- Accessing personal bank accounts
- Opening lines of credit
- Obtaining healthcare
- Filing fraudulent tax returns
Obituaries are normally published during the grieving process, when families are often too distracted to monitor the dead person’s financial accounts. Fraudsters love stealing the identities of dead people, and obituaries let them know when it’s the right time to strike their victims. Therefore, publicly announcing a family member’s death before understanding the risks can expose you, your loved ones, and your dearly departed to a form of identity theft.
Like most other scams, money is the primary motivation for obituary fraud. In the event of a death in the family, it isn’t just the decedent’s personal finances that become vulnerable. Surviving family members, friends, and professional connections can become targets as well.
For some scammers, obituary fraud may be just the first phase of their scheme. The chaos and disorganization following death provides the perfect opportunity for fraudsters to victimize surviving spouses or other family members by pretending to be debt collectors, government agents, or life insurance agents. Whoever they may be impersonating, their goal is always to convince their victims to pay up. Have you ever received vague social media messages from persons that you have known a long time ago but never communicated with each other until you received the message? Although this may be a legitimate communication, chances are the person is dead or the account has been hijacked.
Elderly people are especially vulnerable to obituary fraud. A tendency to be overly trusting and financially stable makes this group an attractive target for criminals. Obituaries can provide direct access to the seniors in a grieving family. They can also be used to aid in a grandparent scam, when a fraudster impersonates a family member to gain their victims’ sympathy and eventually, money.
The post-2020 environment has given rise to yet another way for fraudsters to commit fraud. Thanks to the pandemic, an obituary can alert scammers if a person died of COVID-19 . That scammer then impersonates a government agent or representative of FEMA, a government agency that offers funeral aid to victims of coronavirus. Usually, the scammer will claim that additional personal information will be needed before aid is dispensed. Then, that information is subsequently used to commit identity fraud.
Obituary Death Announcement Scam Warning Signs
No two scammers operate in the same way. However, there are some red flags that may indicate you’ve been targeted for a bereavement scam. Some signs to watch out for are:
- Phone calls, texts, or emails rather than official mail from government agents
- Debt collectors who stress “immediate” payment or use scare tactics
- Being instructed to pay debt via wire transfer or gift cards
- Bills for credit activity after account holder’s death
- Any unsolicited communication, specially vague messages from imposters pretending to be someone you know
How to Protect Yourself From Obituary Death Announcement Scams
While writing the obituary
Understandably, writing someone’s obituary is a huge responsibility that requires careful planning and thought. Not only do you have to condense an entire person’s life to a few paragraphs, you must also honor their memory with “just enough” personal details while preventing identity fraud at the same time.
The best way to protect your loved ones’ personal information is to think like a scammer. Birthdates, mother’s maiden names, middle names, and street addresses are common details that can be used to access accounts. State the decedent’s age but avoid announcing their actual birthday. Also, avoid announcing the time and place of the funeral in the obituary, which can alert burglars to when your family members’ homes will likely be empty.
Contact credit bureaus, financial institutions, the IRS, and the Social Security Administration right away to notify them that your loved one has died. A few months after your loved one passes, obtain a copy of their credit report to check for any activity after their death. Be wary of any long-lost relatives, friends, and professional contacts who seem to appear “out of nowhere,” especially if they contact you through social media with vague messages. Finally, avoid paying any debts until you’ve verified their legitimacy. In most cases, family members aren’t liable for paying the debts of a deceased person.