Beware the Obit Scam: Scammers Target Widow Months After Husband Dies

"The BBB believes they’re putting too much info into obituaries, especially mother’s maiden names and things like that actually needed for identity theft."

Scammers preying on grieving widows stole an Illinois woman's identity, forwarding her mail without her knowledge, charging her credit cards and trying to open new cards mere months after her husband passed away.

Judi, who asked NBC 5 not to share her last name or location as she deals with the effects of the recent scam, said she wants to warn those who may be especially vulnerable.

"The emotional impact of this," she said, "even though there wasn’t any financial impact, is not going to go away for a while."

Judi lost her husband in January. In April she learned someone had fraudulently charged her credit card for a hotel in Atlanta, the Atlanta Aquarium, a collection agency from a car rental and house cleaning for $200.

Worse yet, someone had forwarded her mail from her suburban Chicago home to an unfamiliar address in the city.

Judi said she thinks she was likely targeted through the obituary she wrote for her husband.

The Better Business Bureau said this type of scam, known as an obit scam, is a growing problem, and it comes down to how much information is shared.

"The BBB believes they’re putting too much info into obituaries, especially mother’s maiden names and things like that actually needed for identity theft," said Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois.

Obituary scams fall under the greater umbrella of romance scams, according to the Better Business Bureau, and often go unreported, usually because people are embarrassed.

"Consumers need to be educated about this particular scam," Bernas said. "I think this obit scam is an increasing scam. Most, 9 of 10, don’t even know about it and don’t even realize they can be a victim.

Judi took action and filed a complaint with the US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), which they confirmed to NBC 5 that they are still looking into the case and the mail forwarding has been reversed. Her congressional representative Sean Casten reached out to the USPIS on her behalf and issued a statement saying:

“One of the most gratifying aspects of being a Representative in Congress is the ability to help people in need, so I was glad that I could contact USPS and the US Postal Inspection Service to bring immediate attention to Judi’s distressing situation.  Identity theft is a serious and growing threat, and Judi’s story is a good example of why Congress needs to do more in the long-term.  In the meantime, I will continue to do all that I can to see that Judi’s case is quickly and favorably resolved.” 

The USPIS says mail forwarding is meant to be user friendly. No identification is required to submit a request; however, a notification is mailed to both the originating and new address. USPIS encourages customers to sign up for informed delivery, an online service allowing you to digitally preview mail and manage packages scheduled to arrive. Customers will also immediately be notified of a mail forwarding request.

As for Judi, she says she’ll monitor her bank accounts and credit statements daily from now on and has also signed up for LifeLock, a company that monitors your personal information for fraudulent activity. 

The BBB also says it’s a good idea to always remain vigilant and aware.

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