Scamming the Bereaved: It’s More Common Than You Think

By: VGFS
Thursday, December 27, 2018

For many of us, discussing death is off limits. As a result, a loved one’s finances and final wishes may only be revealed after his or her passing.

Sadly, there are con artists who focus on scamming the bereaved for this very reason. They also know that saying goodbye to a loved one leaves you distracted and vulnerable. While we hope you’re never targeted, knowing the common tactics used by bereavement scam artists could prevent you or a loved one from becoming a victim if—or when—a fraudster strikes:

Overdue Utilities/Bills

A “professional” informs you of the decedent’s debt either over the phone, online, mail, or in person. In person, they may show you an ID badge or realistic-looking bill. An email might link to a “secure” online payment form. Never give out personal or financial information, no matter how threatening or urgent the situation seems. If a utility bill is in question, contact the utility company yourself.

Unpaid Taxes

If you learn about your loved one’s tax debt out of the blue, be wary. The IRS communicates by mail on several occasions before employing other tactics. Hunt down previous tax returns or consult with a tax attorney. Checks should be mailed directly to the IRS and only made payable to the U.S. Treasury. Never pay a collection agency.

The Personal Loan

Funerals tend to bring long-lost family and friends together. Be suspicious of strangers or anyone who claims they are owed money. If you know the person, ask a trusted friend to help you verify their story. If you feel that you are being extorted, contact an attorney.

The Cadillac Funeral

While most funeral directors are in this business to provide you with the very best support and care, there are some who will exploit your sorrow. Beware of funeral fraud. If you’re being shown caskets and services above your price range, speak up. Request a full catalog with pricing and enter the funeral home with a set budget. Bring a companion for support and always work with a reputable funeral home.

Life Insurance Policy Lapse

An unexpected life insurance policy may seem like a Godsend. You may be informed that a policy exists, but you’ll need to pay the final installments to active the payout. The scammer may request payment by money wire, credit card, cash, or bank withdrawal, as well as a copy of the death certificate. Their goal is identity theft and/or to steal your money. If you think the claim could be legitimate, have an attorney or trusted family member explore it at a later time.

Surprise Inheritance/Unclaimed Funds

Be wary of surprise inheritances and unclaimed funds. The scammer may ask for personal information to verify your identity or bank account information where they can “deposit” the funds. Don’t fall for their narrative. Again, turn to a trusted friend or lawyer to help you determine the legitimacy of the funds and how to receive them without risking identity theft or a hit to your bank account.

Your Health Benefits Are at Risk

Scam artists know that losing your health benefits is scary. They may ask for a payment via credit card, money order, or cash to reactivate your benefits. Don’t fall for it. Contact your insurance company directly. Only use a number from an established insurer’s website, never the one that the caller used or provided.

Tips for avoiding scams on the bereaved:

●      Be guarded. Scammers may be friendly and helpful or confident and pushy. Never make a decision under pressure or share private information with a stranger.

●      Be high-maintenance. Con artists play a numbers game. When you hang up, ask questions, or refer them to your attorney, they’ll likely move along to an easier target.

●      Be vague. Obituary details can allow scammers to fake familiarity with your loved one. Avoid providing personal details, including maiden names, in your any death notices you place.

●      Get monitoring. One of the three credit reporting companies Equifax, Experian, or Transunion can monitor you and your deceased loved one’s credit and identity for fraud. 

●      Do nothing. Let calls go to voicemail. Give yourself time and visit requests when you’re in a better mindset.

In a perfect world, no one would ever scam the bereaved. At Vaughn Green Funeral Services, we have you and your family’s best interests at heart. Should you need additional information on identity and funeral fraud or help in laying your loved one to rest, our compassionate funeral directors are always here for you.

About Vaughn Greene Funeral Services: For more than 20 years, Vaughn Greene Funeral Services has been providing a ministry of care to Baltimore’s African American community. As a leading local, minority- and family-owned provider, we promise to provide our highest level of service and respect to families who entrust us to honor their loved one. For more information, please call us at 410.655.0015 or visit us online at https://vaughncgreene.com/.

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