FBI El Paso
Special Agent Jeanette Harper
(915) 832-5355
April 30, 2020

FBI El Paso Warns About Scams That Are Targeting the Deceased and Their Grieving Families: Bereavement Scams

Losing a loved one can take an enormous toll—physically, emotionally, and even financially. It is hard enough on its own without also having to worry about fraud on top of it. Scammers will try to cash in on your already-difficult situation.

The fraudster could try to open new credit cards in the deceased person’s name or use a phishing scheme to pressure a grieving spouse into paying for a bogus benefit. Perhaps he says that he is calling from an insurance company and is able to re-instate an expired life insurance policy if she just makes a payment to cover the last few years of unpaid fees. ID thieves may even try to use the deceased person’s Social Security number to create a new identity.

There are many versions of these types of scams to include: outstanding debt, funeral scams, Medicare scams, tax fraud, romance/compassion scams, delinquent Life Insurance ploys, credit card scams, and possibly specially engraved trinkets.

So how do you protect your family after the loved one has passed?

We all want to acknowledge a loved one’s life completed. But be aware of how many personal facts you provide in an obituary, post online, including social media, the greater the risk of scams—for the departed and survivors alike.

When it’s time to write your loved one’s obituary, give the deceased’s age, but leave out the birthdate, middle name, home address, birthplace, and mother’s maiden name. This part will be hard to follow, don’t include the names of family survivors. This may open them up to these scams.

Each day, thousands of deceased family members fall victim to identity theft— costing their survivors pain and financial loss. Alert the major credit reporting agencies as soon as you can as to the passing of your loved one. They will want copies of the death certificate as well as specific details about your relative, including date of birth, Social Security Number, full legal name, and recent addresses. The agencies will flag the person’s credit file and put a freeze on it to prevent others from opening new unauthorized lines of credit.

Obtain a credit report for the deceased person right after death and a few months afterwards. This will help you to identify any otherwise unknown accounts and to watch out for any attempted fraudulent activity after death.

Make sure to also notify any current banks, credit unions, or financial institutions that the deceased person used so that all checking, savings, investment, or credit card accounts can be flagged appropriately. The same thing for insurance companies holding auto, home, or life insurance policies. Check with the financial institution to see what access survivors' are entitled to and what protections will be put in place to keep scammers out.

Send a copy of the death certificate to the IRS so that the person’s tax account can be flagged as well. Send the death certificate to the mailing address that the deceased individual would normally use to submit tax returns. You may also submit a copy of the death certificate when you file the person’s final tax return.

Sometimes your funeral home will notify the Social Security Administration—but if not, you should do so right away.

In a time that should be dedicated to healing, many families are instead sorting through confusing, and often convincing, forms of deceit. Still, if you know what to look for, you can avoid being swindled and focus on finding grief support.

As always, if you have been victimized by a cyber fraud, you can report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov.