Heartless fraudsters exploit the dead

Thursday, 2 May, 2019

According to identity verification services provider Trulioo, heartless fraudsters are using the internet in ever greater numbers to exploit the dead for identity fraud or to steal funds from the deceased and their relatives.

This, of course, is nothing new. Back in the pre-internet days, unscrupulous people would scour the obituaries in newspapers – finding out who had died and when funerals took place – in order to set-up cons against the bereaved. Nowadays though these details are just a click away.

It may surprise you to know that each year 800,000 deceased people have their identities stolen. And even though such identities have become harder to steal thanks to better and more secure government and healthcare systems, cybercriminals are themselves getting better and more creative about leveraging such technology.

But whatever protective systems are put in place, dealing with the death of a loved one has always made us vulnerable to opportunistic criminals. Dealing with closing down their online presence or taking control of the deceased’s financial accounts can be the last thing on a grieving person’s mind.

Dealing with finances, making contact with card issuers, credit companies and other necessary companies can often fall on one person in the family and they are unlikely to be thinking of potential fraud.

This is a highly profitable period for the fraudsters. Not only to steal money or run credit card scams but using stolen identities to open new accounts or applying for cards exploiting the deceased’s credit ratings.

Trulioo recommends that individuals involved in wrapping up a person’s affairs need to stay on top of informing the relevant outside organisations and companies, such as banks, credit card companies or even bodies such as the DVLA. Not only that, but a follow-up is extremely important in checking that ‘no bad activity’ has taken place.

While criminals have gone digital, they will still adopt old-fashioned techniques such as scouring the obituaries of local newspapers. This can give them names, maiden names, dates-of-birth, beneficiaries and addresses. Obituaries are still the go-to source for burglars. So, it is important to be aware of what information you put into your loved one’s notice.

It is estimated that a deceased person will continue to receive 110 items of direct mail during the first twelve months of their death. Check out the Bereavement Register which can help block unwanted mail.

It’s a sad fact, but it’s always a good idea to count on the heartlessness of human nature and assume there may be someone out there looking to exploit your grief. As with all data online, the best advice is to take your time and remember – if something seems suspicious then it probably is.

Tim Bamford author picture


Tim is a veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.