Contributed by Maine Credit Unions

When a family member or a close friend passes away, it’s natural to want to tell that individual’s story. Many choose to honor those they’ve lost by sharing kind words in an obituary or by posting memories on social media. Regardless of how a death is being mourned or how a life is being celebrated, shared details can sometimes fall into the hands of fraudsters looking to carry out bereavement scams. In this type of scam, fraudsters peruse obituaries and social media for information such as birth dates, names of children – whatever they can leverage to commit various types of fraud. Families of deceased loved ones can avoid being swindled and focus on healing if they know what to look out for. 

Outstanding debt scams 

After obtaining the personal details of a deceased person’s family members, a fraudster may contact them with claims of an outstanding debt. While pretending to be a debt collector, they tell the family member they’re responsible for the deceased person’s debts. Because the fraudster knows personal information about the family member and their lost loved one, they can seem legitimate. The fraudster is preying on people during a period of vulnerability. For example, they may say something like, “Your husband accumulated $1,500 in debt that is past due. If we don’t receive payment today, we’ll have to send your account to collections.” They are hoping the family member will offer payment without taking the time to think things through, as they may be consumed with grief or other emotions. Instead, people should hang up and do some research to see if the claim is legitimate. 

Life insurance scams 

With this scam, the fraudster contacts a family member with claims that the deceased person had fallen behind on their life insurance payments. For example, “We’re very sorry to learn of your wife’s death. She had fallen behind on her life insurance payments, but we allow a grace period to renew. If you send us the $3,000 in back payments now, you’ll receive $100,000.” This is a red flag. Again, people should hang up and call their loved one’s known life insurance agency directly, where they’ll likely confirm the original call did not come from them. 

Entitlement scams 

While the previous scams have preyed on victims by using fear as a tactic, this one does not. Instead, these scams can seem like a shining light during a dark time. Instead of owing money, fraudsters contact family members with claims that they’re entitled to money. For example, they may claim that the family member was left an inheritance, but they just need to pay a fee to process it. People let their guards down and fall victim to these scams, as they want to believe it. Family members should ask for the caller’s name, number, and company so you can call them back. If they hang up or try to shift the conversation, it’s likely a scam. If they do offer information, people should still hang up and do some research to determine if the entitlement is legitimate. 

Home burglary 

This scam is different from the others, as the fraudster is hoping for no contact with friends or family members of the deceased. When someone passes, the time and date of a funeral is often shared in an obituary or online. Thieves may take advantage of funeral services and plan burglaries for that exact time, with the assumption that family members will be at the service instead of at home. Family members can avoid potential burglary by omitting the deceased’s address from the obituary or by asking a trustworthy person not attending the funeral to stay in the house or apartment during the service. 

The best way for people to safeguard themselves against bereavement scams is to not overshare personal information in obituaries, social media posts, or anywhere else a death announcement or celebration of life is being shared. Also, if people know what to look out for, they can avoid scams and focus on healing.