For people who are grieving the loss of a loved one, a scam is probably the last thing on their minds. However, recent reports have highlighted the ways that scammers are exploiting this difficult time in consumers’ lives.
Scammers are scanning obituaries, looking for people who have recently lost someone, in the hopes of taking advantage of them during a vulnerable time.
Making threats for fast payment
Scammers use the information in the obituary to pretend to be the funeral home the family is working with. They call the family, claiming they owe a certain amount of money for extra funeral costs, an insurance payment, a deposit or some other fee.
On top of that, the scammer will threaten to cancel the family’s funeral service or scheduled cremation if they don’t come up with the extra money as quickly as possible. These scammers typically ask for money electronically – via apps like Venmo, Zelle, Apple Pay, or even gift cards or wire transfers – and they want to be paid as quickly as possible.
Many times, scammers will use spoofing technology to make the caller ID reflect that of the local funeral home, making the call seem all the more legitimate to grieving family members.
Hope Etherton, a funeral director from Rainsville Funeral Home, shared her experience with this scam with NBC News. She explained that as she was with a family preparing for a funeral service to begin, the wife of the deceased received a phone call with the Rainsville Funeral Home Caller ID. Not only that – the caller claimed to be Etherton’s brother, another funeral director.
While the scammer never got the chance to ask for money – Etherton got on the phone and the scammer quickly hung up – stories range from requests for $200 or as much as $5,000 from grieving loved ones.
Spotting a scammer
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is eager to spread the word about this scam to ensure that consumers are protecting themselves and their families if they end up on the receiving end of one of these calls.
The agency recommends that consumers pay particular attention to how the person on the other end of the phone is asking them to pay, in addition to the urgency of their request.
Legitimate funeral homes aren’t going to require you to pay with any kind of digital currency, gift card, or wire transfer. They also won’t force you to pay them immediately or ask for any kind of personal information over the phone.
A good practice is to always contact to the funeral home you’re working with. Call their direct business line – never call or text a phone number from a potential scammer.
If possible, take down the phone number or contact information from the scammer. This can be used to report it to the funeral home you’re working with or the FTC. Victims of this scam can report their experience to the FTC at ReportFraud.FTC.gov.