In the past, an eloquently written obituary published in the local newspaper was the accepted norm. The obituary contained details of the life of the deceased, relatives, hobbies and the upcoming funeral services. In most cases, the information contained in the obituary would be read only by the subscribers of the local newspaper.
Fast forward to the present day digital age. While the obituary is still the format used for announcing the death of a loved one, the methods and speed of publishing have increased dramatically. Newspapers continue to print obituary notices; however, the information contained in the obituary notice is no longer limited to its subscribers who pick up the newspaper on their doorstep. Most newspapers now have an edition on the internet, allowing for additional access to personal information that can be seen by a multitude of individuals.
Unfortunately, this acceleration of the number of people that can access the obituary of the deceased carries with it the danger of unscrupulous people trying to scam the grieving survivors or an attempt at identity theft. The standard information contained in an obituary notice can be used by devious individuals to cause further suffering to those who have just lost a loved one. Such scams that may be attempted include being contacted directly or by phone by criminals who may;
Pose as banking, insurance, or government officials and try to obtain information about the deceased such as Social Security number, credit card number, date of birth, driver license numbers and mother’s maiden name for the purpose of identity theft.
Demand payment of bills allegedly owed by the deceased along with the threat of a lawsuit if payment is not received promptly.
Send or attempt to deliver an item such as a book or piece of jewelry that is engraved with the name of the surviving spouse or child. The recipient is told that the item was ordered by the deceased before he or she passed away. Of course, there is always the matter of the “outstanding payment” due on the gift.
Break in and burglarize the survivors’ home while they are at the funeral services.
Use information in the death notice to open credit cards.
Fortunately, there are simple steps that can be taken in writing an obituary which will drastically reduce the chances of being targeted by criminals.
Reduce the information offered in the death notice. To limit exposure to identity theft, list only the year of the deceased’s birth and do not include the maiden name of his or her mother.
To avoid the onslaught of solicitations and to reduce the risk of a break-in to a home while the occupants are at the funeral services, do not include any addresses in the obituary.
Close accounts and credit cards of the deceased. Notify credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) that the individual is deceased. Once the agencies have updated this information, if an individual attempts to open a credit card using the information of the deceased, the fraud will be detected.
Taking the above steps will help minimize identity theft and scams. After the death of a loved one, all bills should be carefully scrutinized and a skeptical attitude taken toward any phone or in person solicitations. In this electronic age, taking such safeguards will help ensure that the bereaved are not victims of additional grief.
Monica Phillips is a contributing writer for Heart to Heart Sympathy Gifts, an online retailer of sympathy and memorial gifts of comfort and remembrance.