Could This Happen to You?

Online Death Notice May Have Triggered Elaborate Scam Scheme

“Mike,” a recently widowed senior, was puzzled the minute he returned from a long weekend trip and discovered he’d had no mail delivery. A trip to the post office Tuesday morning confirmed his suspicions that something was amiss.

A stranger had put a hold on Mike’s mail along with a forward to an unknown address – a warehouse in another state. Fortunately, the mail had not yet been forwarded. The postal service clerk quickly recognized the fraud and cancelled the forward. She advised Mike to file a complaint with the U.S. Postal Service, which he did.

That wasn’t the end of it, though. When Mike arrived home with his mail, he realized that four applications for credit cards had been taken out in his late wife’s name, in spite of the fact he had cancelled all of his wife’s credit cards after she’d died several months before. Three of the credit card companies had turned down the requests. But a fourth had issued a $15,000 line of credit with a $3,000 cash access line.

While Mike is still trying to sort out the details of the elaborate scheme, he suspects he was targeted through the following online activities:

  • His wife’s obituary. The details of his wife’s life in the online obituary not only included notice of her death but information about an “alias” that Mike had used when he was working in the entertainment industry. Scammers used that alias name to apply for the credit cards.

  • Online ordering history. Mike’s wife had used his alias for some of her online shopping and ordering. Scammers may have retrieved his late wife’s Social Security number from that order history. Regardless of how they obtained the Social Security number, having that number enabled them to apply for scam credit cards under her name.

Mike took several steps to resolve the situation including reconnecting with all the credit card companies where his wife had held accounts to let them know of the scam. He also notified the three credit agencies – Equifax, Experian, and Transunion – that his wife had passed away and sent them her death certificate. It’s a critical step he encourages other families to take after the death of a loved one. (Generally it is sufficient to contact just one of the agencies as they will share that information.)

In addition, Mike contacted police in the city where the attempt had been made to forward his mail.

Even though the scam was directed at his late wife, “I had the feeling of being ripped off myself,” Mike said of his reaction. “I went through a lot to uncover all of this and discovered someone was obviously using a warehouse in another city to divert mail. There’s someone there scamming, and I felt good I stopped it. When someone passes away, make sure you notify those three credit agencies. That would have stopped things right away in this case.”

Mike is awaiting additional details about his case from authorities.

Could this happen to you? It could happen to anyone. When attempting to steal your information and identity, scammers often pose as people they are not, such as IRS representatives, individuals in need or even family members.

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