How to avoid bereavement scams after a loved one dies

If you know what to look for, you can prevent becoming a scam victim while you’re grieving

After the death of a loved one, you expect to feel a range of emotions: denial, sadness, or even anger — all of which are normal responses to such a painful experience. What you may not anticipate is feeling preyed upon by bereavement scams from con artists and fraudsters.
It’s an absolute shame. 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.

What is a bereavement scam?

Bereavement scams are a form of heartstring scams that take place when a person passes away and a con artist uses this knowledge to extract information or money from the people the deceased left behind. Potential targets emerge from obituaries, and finding related phone numbers, email addresses, or mailing addresses online is easy.

Types of bereavement scams

While scams on the bereaved may come in any form, a few common ones might look like this:

1. Unpaid bills scam

Situation: “Just before your husband passed away, he asked us to come out and make a few repairs to the outside of your home. He agreed to pay $250 upfront and another $250 when we’re finished.”
The Better Business Bureau reports that some scammers even come prepared with a sloppily signed contract in hopes of seizing a payment right away.

2. Outstanding debt scam

Situation: “Your wife accumulated $2,000 in debt that is past due. If we don’t receive payment today, we’ll have to send your account to collections and garnish your wages.”
Phone calls like these are made by pushy, fear-inducing fraudsters who often prey on seniors in a period of vulnerability.

3. Funeral scams

Situation: “Take some time to consider how you want your father to be remembered at his funeral. While the package you selected is sufficient, we can offer so much more to honor him better.”
While most funeral homes run caring and upstanding businesses, this unethical practice by some manipulates families by upselling on body preparation, caskets, the memorial service, the burial, and more.

4. Medicare and Medicaid scams

Situation: “Our condolences on your recent loss. We’re calling today to update your insurance information, so your coverage can continue as before. Can you confirm a few things for us?”
Despite the fact that insurance agents never request this kind of information over the phone, scammers targeting the bereaved find success in obtaining birth dates, death dates, and Social Security numbers through this method.

5. Tax fraud

Situation: “I’m calling from the IRS. Your husband owed back taxes that must be paid today. This is a serious matter that may result in your arrest and prosecution if not resolved.”
Serious work goes into tax fraud scams, which evolve constantly. For example, a recent twist is scammers direct taxpayers to “verify” their claims by calling telephone numbers that mimic IRS assistance centers.

6. Specially engraved trinkets

Situation: “Dear Mr. Jones, your wife requested we send this special-edition ballpoint pen following her death as a gesture of love. Please submit payment according to the invoice included.”
This scam hopes to prey on the heartstrings of the recipient and even induce bereavement guilt at the thought of not paying.

7. Sweetheart scams

Situation: “I think I’m falling in love with you. …. I can’t wait until I can move there to be with you. …. Could you help me pay the fee to break my rental agreement early? I can’t thank you enough!”
Sweetheart scams play the long game. Played as grief support, scammers earn the trust of their victims over time — and usually online — to steal identities and money.

8. Delinquent life insurance ploys

Situation: “We were so saddened to learn of your husband’s death. He had fallen behind on his life insurance payments recently, but, as is our policy, we allow a one-month grace period to renew.”
Fraudulent insurance agents state the value of the policy as well as how much is owed in back payments, such as “spend just $2,500 and you’ll get $50,000.”

9. Credit card scams

Situation: Credit card invoice 014: $600 charged to Car Care Center, late fee of $24. Total: $624.”
Credit card debts communicated in writing from a collection company seems legitimate enough. Of course, a quick credit report can easily prove otherwise.

10. Calls from clairvoyants

Situation: “Your wife reached out to me from the grave with a message for you. She desperately wants to connect with you one last time.”
This senior scam works to extract fee after fee from victims who long to hear from the dearly departed and are willing to pay for the privilege.

What you need to know about bereavement leave

How to protect yourself from bereavement scams

When you get a phone call that seems illegitimate

Request details in writing, hang up, and do a couple quick searches online. Google the number that was used to call you, and then call the official number listed online for the agency who claimed to call. This goes for the IRS, credit card companies, collection agencies, life insurance companies, and more.

When you’re asked to send money

Say “no” firmly. Recognize that you’re under no obligation to pay for services rendered or debt accrued by your loved one unless you are a cosigner. Even if you did cosign for a loan with the departed, you should still refuse to send money. Instead, direct the request to the executor of your loved one’s will.

When you’re told a life insurance policy can’t be paid out

Contact the insurance commissioner’s office in your state, where records of all life insurance policies are held.

If you’d like to avoid funeral scams in the future

Talk with your spouse and children about your burial and funeral preferences, and put them in writing. You can list them in a will and/or through a Preneed Funeral insurance plan, which also allows you to pay for your funeral services in advance.
This article may contain links to third party websites, but Great Western Insurance Company is neither responsible nor liable for their content, accuracy, or security. Review our Terms and Conditions to learn more.
Photo credit: iStock

Find grief support

Search for grief support resources, such as in-person groups, online forums, and phone hotlines, available in your area.


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