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5 Scams to Avoid After a Death


When a relative or someone close to you dies, the stress of dealing with the loss, the funeral arrangements and any financial matters can be overwhelming.

Unfortunately, there are always unscrupulous people looking to take advantage of those in a vulnerable state. When facing the loss of someone close to you, it is important to be aware of scams that seek to victimize surviving family members.

We have outlined five of the most common below along with tips on how to avoid falling for these tricks:

Fake Life Insurance Policy: A surviving family member will receive a phone call or other communication indicating the deceased had a life insurance policy that would pay out a large amount of money upon death. The scammer says, however, the deceased was behind on payments. In order to receive the payout, a family member would need to make up the shortfall. Usually, the scammer asks for about $2,000 to be transferred via wire or through a prepaid debit card.

Tip: Never give out personal information over the phone, and never agree to transfer money to someone without verifying the legitimacy of the company. Look for any paperwork concerning insurance the deceased may have had and contact the company directly about any possible benefits.

“IRS” Calls: Scammers will make aggressive phone calls to the bereaved, claiming to be an IRS employee and saying the deceased owes tax money. The scammer will threaten legal action against the bereaved if they do not pay the outstanding taxes. Scammers also are now able to spoof phone numbers and locations so that Caller ID actually indicates the call originating from the IRS.

Tip: The IRS has stated that it will never demand money or information like this. If you receive any call, email or text from the IRS, do not give any information or send any money. Follow up the call by contacting the IRS to find out whether the call was legitimate.

Medicare Scam: Sometimes scammers will call or email and claim the deceased or bereaved’s Medicare insurance cards need to be updated. In order to update the cards, they claim they will need the deceased or bereaved’s Social Security number and birth date. This is a common phishing scam designed to steal your identity. People sometimes fall for this and the above IRS scam because the caller claims to represent a government entity in order to feign legitimacy.

Tip: The federal government has stated that it does not seek information in this manner. Never give out personal information over the phone or through email.

Bogus Collection Agents: Scammers will pose as collection agents, claiming there is an outstanding balance on a credit card. The scammers may also claim that a debt exists on a car loan or medical bill, in addition to other kinds of debt. They contact the bereaved by phone and will sometimes send fake invoices addressed to the deceased indicating a balance is owed.

Tip: Even if an outstanding credit card debt is legitimate, the bereaved may not be responsible for paying it. Seek out legal advice before paying off any such debt. Also, never give money because of an untrusted solicitation without checking on the legitimacy and legality first.

Burglary: Long thought of as a potential problem, the burglary of a bereaved’s home during funeral services is a very real possibility. An Alabama woman was recently charged with multiple counts of breaking into homes during funerals. Other incidents have been reported in Ohio, Washington State, Connecticut and Kentucky. 

Tip: Recruit a trusted friend or neighbor who is not attending services to stay in the bereaved’s home during the funeral.

If you are contacted by anyone claiming the deceased is either owed money or owes money, demand to know the person’s name, the name of the firm for which they work and a telephone number and address at which they can be contacted. This will usually prompt the person to hang up immediately.

For more information on common scams in New Jersey, visit the state Division of Consumer Affairs’ Anti-Fraud Toolkit.