To the Indiana families that had recently lost a relative, the callers were making a credible request: The state’s Vital Records Division needed personal information to complete the death certificate.
But those requests are not legitimate: They’re just the latest twist on scams that attempt to steal the identities of people who have died.
“Our office has gotten phone calls from people who recently lost loved ones, saying they’re calling us back because we supposedly called them to request personal information such as a deceased’s birth date, address and Social Security number,” says Corey Ealy, director of Vital Records for the Indiana State Department of Health. “But we never call citizens to collect information for death certificates. We are receivers of this information, not solicitors of it.”
This is true of every other state in the country, says Celine Clark of the National Funeral Directors Association, which represents some 20,000 members, who typically collect information for death certificates and file it with the appropriate agencies.
“It’s the funeral director who gets the doctor to complete the medical portion of the death certificate,” Clark says. “The funeral director gets the personal information of the deceased—name, address and Social Security number—from the family and files the death certificate at the county courthouse, and then gets it filed with the state health department.”
“No matter what the situation, no state or county agency would ever call the families of the deceased,” Clark adds. “If you get a call from someone saying they are with a governmental agency that is preparing a death certificate, it, without doubt, is a scam.”
In the Indiana cases, the scammers apparently read obituaries and then called the grieving families. Here’s how to protect yourself from such trickery:
- In obituaries, don’t include details such as the deceased’s birth date (use only the year) or addresses, including those of family members.
- Never provide a caller (or e-mailer) with any personal information on a deceased person.
- Mail copies of the death certificate to all three credit-reporting bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion—and all credit issuers to cancel accounts right after the person dies. Check the deceased’s credit history at https://www.annualcreditreport.com four to six weeks later to ensure no fraudulent accounts have been opened.