It’s tradition for families to write and publish an obituary in the local newspaper or online when a family member passes away. However, this practice can attract scammers.

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Obituary scams typically start with information gleaned from death notices, and can result in fraudsters:

  • Accessing personal bank accounts.
  • Opening lines of credit.
  • Obtaining healthcare.
  • Filing fraudulent tax returns.

Money is the primary motivation for obituary fraud. In the event of a death, it isn’t just the decedent’s finances that become vulnerable. Surviving family members, friends and professional connections can become targets as well.

Before preparing the obituary, take a moment to educate yourself on the possible risks involved.

How to write a safer obituary

When you begin writing the obituary, try to omit details that could be used for identity theft including:

  • Deceased’s date and place of birth, middle name, maiden name, mother’s maiden name or employment history and home address.
  • Personal information of the surviving relatives.

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Red flags to watch for

After publishing an obituary, watch for these red flags that suggest a scammer may be targeting you:

  • Phone calls, texts or emails from sources other than government officials.
  • Debt collectors who stress “immediate” payment or use other scare tactics.
  • Being instructed to pay debt via wire transfer or gift cards.
  • Receiving bills for credit activity after the account holder’s death.

Other best practices

  • Report death to Social Security.
  • Send a copy of the death certificate to the IRS.
  • Notify banks and other financial institutions and credit reporting bureaus.
  • Retrieve copy of the deceased’s credit report.