Nessel warns residents to beware of ‘obituary pirates’

LANSING –Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is warning Michigan residents of the latest frontier for scammers: death. As a recent article on the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) website cautions, posting online death notices heavy with personal information about the deceased could put that person, as well as their survivors, on the radar of fraudsters and opportunists.

In an obituary scam, the victim is targeted by scammers because they are either deceased or emotionally vulnerable from the grief of losing a loved one.

The details about a lost loved one that family and friends share online can be easily gathered by criminals to purchase even more personal data – like the deceased person’s address and social security number – from the dark web. Armed with that information, criminals can open bank accounts, obtain loans, secure health insurance, or file false tax returns in the deceased person’s name.

Additionally, a grieving person can be more susceptible to manipulation from scammers masquerading as representatives of government agencies, collection agencies, or insurance companies. Scammers may also pose as long-lost friends, relatives, or romantic partners who contact the deceased’s survivors out of the blue to reminisce. But this is yet another tactic to acquire personal information to use for nefarious purposes.

As the AARP article advises, to avoid a loved one becoming the subject of a scam, or becoming a victim of an obituary scam yourself, survivors should be on the lookout for red flags like:

- Bills or credit card activity for expenses accrued after your loved one’s death.

- Calls from government agency imposters, debt collectors, or insurance brokers about outstanding taxes, unpaid bills, or unfinished business supposedly left by the deceased.

- Callers who pressure you to pay immediately by wire transfer, gift card, or reloadable cash card.

Family members may be contacted by the deceased person’s legitimate creditors, subject to limitations on who and for what purpose. Loved ones should look to the Federal Trade Commission’s article, Debts and Deceased Relatives, for advice on responding to these queries.

Another twist on the obituary scam has “obituary pirates” scouring newspapers and websites for details about the deaths of strangers, fabricating additional details, and posting the fake obituaries as clickbait on blogs or video sites to generate views and ad revenue.

Obituary pirates prey on the vulnerability of grieving families, exploiting personal information for their own gain.

Michigan residents are advised to share loved ones’ obituaries as soon as possible to avoid having a fake one confused with the real thing. Families are also urged to remain wary of suspicious online activities related to a loved one’s passing.

By remaining vigilant and verifying the legitimacy of online obituaries and donation requests, individuals can protect themselves and their families from falling victim to these scams.

Michigan residents whose deceased loved one has been the target of obituary pirates or fraud can contact the Department of Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Team at P.O. Box 30213, Lansing, MI 48909 or call 517-335-7599 (Toll-free: 877-765-8388).

Subscribe to the Legal News!
Full access to public notices, articles, columns, archives, statistics, calendar and more
Day Pass Only $4.95!
One-County $80/year
Three-County & Full Pass also available