Sharing your personal information is risky these days, with the sale of such information from online sites and theft from even credit protection agencies. It’s bad enough to have to worry about protecting your identity in your everyday life. It gets worse at death. Obituaries can be the cause of scams.
The simple act of placing an obituary in the local newspaper to inform friends and family about the passing of a loved one can cause and increase the risk for scams. The more personal facts that are published, the greater the risk of scams for the deceased and for his or her survivors.
• Identity theft: First is identity theft of the deceased. Nearly 800,000 people per year in the United States are targeted after death. The first five numbers of your social security numbers are linked to the time and place of birth. Having such information in an obituary allows crooks to figure out the person’s Social Security number to open credit cards or loans. So, don’t include such details. Also, notify the major credit bureaus of the death to freeze the credit. Notify Social Security, banks, financial institutions, the IRS and credit card issuers of the death. Finally, close social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
• Posers: Scammers also use the names published in the obituary to pose as grandchildren of the deceased. They call the listed survivors with stories of muggings or arrest and begging for money. They seem credible because of the use of actual names. To avoid this, consider not listing all the names of the family members.
• Financial scams: Financial scams also are a big issue. Crooks often call the surviving spouse or children claiming the deceased had debts and claim the survivor has to pay. This is simply not true unless the survivor co-signed or guaranteed payment. The debts are only paid out of the estate. Also, fake insurance agents may call claiming the deceased had a “secret” life insurance policy that no one knew about. However, before payout, a tax or handling fee has to be paid to the crook. Legitimate insurance companies don’t require any upfront payments.
• Household theft: Finally, as most folks already know, there is always the possibility of a burglary if the decedent’s address and the time of the funeral services are in the obituary. Thieves can target the unoccupied home and also the neighbors. Leave the home address out and make sure a friend helps keep watch of the homes.
Be careful what you add to a death notice to be safe rather than sorry. Follow these tips to prevent even more sorrow resulting from a scam after the death of a loved one.
Laurie G. Steiner is a member of the law firm of Solomon, Steiner & Peck, Ltd. in Mayfield Heights.
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