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 scams, also known as bereavement scams, typically start with information gleaned from death notices in newspapers or posted online. Criminals 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, criminals can locate and purchase a dead person’s personal data on the dark web, including home address and Social Security number. 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. Criminals 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.
Some bereavement scams are more involved, and they can get personal. Obit-scouring criminals pretend to be long-lost friends or relatives of the deceased, contacting surviving spouses out of the blue to commiserate and reminisce. These displays of simulated compassion can evolve into romance scams or attempts to defraud beneficiaries out of inheritance money.