Whether you’re writing your own obituary as part of your estate planning or writing one for a deceased loved one, you’re probably not thinking about how it could be used by those with criminal intentions. However, unfortunately that’s something that’s crucial to keep in mind.
Having the option to post an obituary on sites like Legacy.com can help to ensure that old friends, colleagues and others can see it no matter where they are and send condolences and contributions. Even obituaries in newspapers, professional journals and more often appear online.
Unfortunately, thieves and fraudsters regularly scan obituaries for information that will let them steal a deceased person’s identity or scam surviving loved ones. Among the things they can do with personal information included in an obituary are:
- Access the deceased person’s accounts before they’re closed
- Obtain credit cards in the decedent’s name
- Break into the deceased’s home
- Contact surviving loved ones claiming the deceased owed them money or that they left them money via a life insurance policy (and ask for their bank information)
Unfortunately, if even one surviving loved one believes a scammer is legitimate, they may give them information (including contact information for other relatives) that allows them to defraud multiple people.
What kind of information is useful to fraudsters?
Even people who wouldn’t normally fall for these scams may be taken in at a time when they’re grieving and not thinking clearly. Further, with enough information about the deceased gleaned from an obituary, a scammer can come up with a believable story. This includes information like the deceased’s:
- Full name, maiden name and nicknames
- Birthplace and where they grew up
- Alma mater(s)
- Previous residences
- Former employers
- Membership in groups/organizations
- Military service
- Relatives’ names and locations
- Pets’ names
- Favorite vacation spots and interests
It may feel like you’d be left with nothing to say if you couldn’t include this information. However, if you think of an obituary as less of a biography (or autobiography) and more of a legacy statement, you’ll probably find plenty to write about.
If you’re the personal representative (executor) of a loved one’s estate, you can protect their assets by notifying the Social Security Administration, credit reporting agencies, financial institutions and credit card companies of their death as soon as possible. It’s also crucial to secure their home and stop their mail.
It’s a lot to think about. Seeking legal guidance no matter where you are in the estate planning or administration process is always a good way to protect yourself and your loved ones.