AARP Eye Center
When a spouse, parent, sibling or close friend dies, it’s natural to want to tell that individual’s story — to share in obituaries what made the cherished person special and to swap memories on social media. But as you celebrate a loved one’s life and mourn his or her death, take care with what you share, because scammers are paying attention, too.
Obituary swindles, also known as bereavement scams, typically start with information gleaned from death notices in newspapers or posted online. Fraudsters harvest facts commonly included in obits — such as the deceased’s birth date, where the person lived and worked, and family members’ names — to start building a profile for identity theft.
With just a few key details, cybercrooks can locate and purchase a dead person’s home address, Social Security number and other personal data on the dark web. They use that information to access or create financial accounts, take out loans, obtain health care or file phony tax returns (and claim bogus refunds) under the deceased’s name — a form of ID theft dubbed ghosting.
Or they’ll weave what they’ve learned about a recent death into impostor scams targeting a surviving spouse or other family member. Con artists posing as government officials, debt collectors or insurance agents try to pry loose more personal data about the deceased, or solicit payment for a supposedly unpaid bill, unclaimed benefit or lapsed policy.
The pandemic has brought a new strain of this scam: Crooks are pretending to represent the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) program that helps families pay funeral expenses for victims of the virus, claiming they need personal information to "register" you for the aid.
Some bereavement cons are more involved, and they can get personal. Obit-scouring swindlers pretend to be long-lost friends or relatives of the deceased, contacting surviving spouses out of the blue to commiserate and reminisce. These shows of simulated compassion can evolve into romance scams or attempts to defraud beneficiaries out of inheritance money.