It’s the worst kind of opportunity crime, but having overly detailed obituaries may lead to fraud.
That’s the message the Edmonton Police Service hopes to get out to the public during Fraud Prevention Month.
“It’s an awful thing to have to think about when your loved one has just passed away,” says Det. Liam Watson with Northeast Division’s Criminal Investigation Section. “But unfortunately, information like a birth date or details about an employer may be all a criminal needs to steal your family member’s identity.”
Edmonton Police state they are investigating a July 2018 case where a suspect used obituary information to commit more than 110 instances of fraud.
It’s the information contained within the obituary that ends up helping suspects. Police say individuals typically use details intended to contact former employers, utility providers and other sources.
“Through social engineering (such as deception and manipulation techniques), they are able to gain further personal details about the deceased and use this information to commit identity fraud.”
In 2018 police dealt with three other fraud cases related to obituary information. Those include that a condo was fraudulently rented using the deceased person’s name. The condo was subsequently abandoned and rent unpaid.
In another instance the identity was used to sell a vehicle, get a telephone account and purchase a vehicle.
The third investigation involved the theft of the deceased person’s car, which had their wallet, driver’s licence, Alberta Health card, Social Insurance card, debit card and two cell phones.
“The individuals responsible were identified and charged with various fraud and identity theft related charges,” say police.
Edmonton Police advise following these steps to prevent fraud:
• When posting an obituary, do not use the day and month of birth of the deceased. Try not to include information on employment history or home address.
If acting as an executor for an estate:
• Alert credit bureaus at the earliest opportunity, so a flag can be placed on the deceased’s profile.
• Alert Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and Service Canada, so a flag can be placed on the deceased’s social insurance number and CRA account.
• Inform the financial institutions used by the deceased, as well as utility providers, including cell phone provider.
• Monitor bank and utility account activity until they are closed.
• You may be asked to provide a copy of the certificate of death and a copy of the will identifying the executor to complete the above steps.
Other ways obituary information is used to commit fraud and other scams:
Grandparent scam – the fraudster contacts the surviving spouse and uses the name of one of the grandchildren listed in the obituary, as well as personal information they find on the grandchild’s social media sites or through internet searches.
Employment scam – through social engineering, the fraudster obtains the deceased’s personal information and uses it to acquire employment under the deceased’s name, thereby directing the income tax owed to the identity of the deceased.
Income/benefits fraud – the deceased’s identity is used to apply for senior’s benefits and pensions through the federal government or to redirect pensions or benefits the deceased was receiving to someone else.
Bank fraud – bank accounts, lines of credit and credit cards are opened in the deceased’s name.
Anonymous information can be submitted to Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or online at www.p3tips.com/250.