There are a lot of people out there who use someone's death as an opportunity to illegally make money. Often, they do it by lying to and stealing from the deceased's surviving loved ones.
These scams are often perpetrated with information the family published in an obituary. Sites like Legacy.com give families the opportunity to tell a loved one's story after they're gone, list their accomplishments and extol their virtues. Often this involves mentioning places they've worked and lived, family members (and where they live) -- and even the deceased's beloved pets. They talk about where the deceased went to school and their favorite vacation spots.
All of this information is fodder for scammers to engage in identity theft or easily convince relatives who may still be in a state of shock that they are someone they're not.
One common scam is to call children, spouses or other relatives and tell them their loved one owed money that is now their responsibility. They have just enough information about the deceased that family members think they must be legitimate.
Another popular scam is to call relatives and tell them their loved one had a large life insurance policy for which they were the beneficiary. Unfortunately, they say, your loved one got behind on their premiums towards the end. All you have to do is give them their credit card or bank account number to make those final payments and you'll get this generous payout.
Sometimes scammers have enough personal information that they can get into people's bank accounts and credit cards before the executor of the estate can close them. Stealing deceased people's identity isn't that difficult when people know what they're doing.
Families can minimize their chances of being victimized by limiting the amount of information they provide in a loved one's obituary. Definitely avoid things like addresses, birth dates, mother's maiden name and other personal information. You can write a loving tribute without those details.
It's also wise to provide copies of the deceased person's death certificate to the IRS, banks, lenders, credit card companies and credit reporting companies.
If someone contacts you about money, don't give them any information. Ask them to email you and get a number where you can call them back. Chances are, you'll never hear from them again. Also, tell your attorney handling the estate so they can advise you.