Call for Action: Can fraudsters use info from your loved ones obituary to scam you?

Call for Action: Can fraudsters use info from your loved ones obituary to scam you?
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Call for Action: Can fraudsters use info from your loved ones obituary to scam you?

It was the worst week of Marge Kittleson’s life, made all the more trying with a single phone call. 
The death of a loved one is hard for anyone. Kittleson learned just how difficult it was when she lost her husband, Lowell, last month. 

“He gave everything he had to everyone,” she said of Lowell. 

She called him one of the kindest humans she’d met in her life – which made a phone call trying to steal his identity just days after his death, shocking. 

“He passed away on a Saturday, the family met with Cress Funeral Home on Sunday, and on Monday night, the day the obituary hit the social media, I got a call,” Marge remembers. 

The caller ID confirmed it was the funeral home calling. The woman on the other end of the line wanted to double-check Lowell’s death certificate and had all the pertinent information – everything down to his birth and death date and the names of his surviving family members. What she didn’t have was his social security number. 

Marge had Lowell’s social security card sitting on her lap. She was seconds away from reading aloud the numbers when she started to question the woman’s story. That woman promptly hung up. 

"Exploited,” Marge said of how she felt during the experience. “Concerned, for myself and my family, but also for all of the people that are going through a death, to have to deal with something like that. Your mind is in so many places.”

It turns out this new low actually isn’t new. Madison College professor Steve Noll has taught his students about this type of fraud, dating back decades. 

“With the age of social media, it's actually gotten worse, because you post something, and these scammers can be literally anywhere in the world,” he said. 

There are some red flags, but one of them isn’t your caller ID. In Marge's case, the scammers had spoofed the funeral home’s phone number to appear legitimate. 

“When you get that call, you need to confirm that person is who you think you're talking to,” Noll said. 

Another cause for concern is the pressure that caller might put on you. 

“Say, ‘Let me get this information that you need and I'll call you back,’ and if they say, ‘Don’t hang up, I need it right now,’ that's a big red flag,” Noll said. 

“If they’re pressuring you to give you the information right now, that's almost always going to be a scam.” 

Even in emotional times, Noll says it’s important to think before you act. 

“You have to remember, scammers don't care how you’re doing,” he said. “That’s the reason you're being scammed is they know that you're being vulnerable.”

Meanwhile, Marge called her local funeral home to alert them  of the scam, and Cress responded by telling her it would include a warning on that type of fraud in its initial meetings with families. The funeral home did not respond to a request for a comment by News 3 Now. 

 Marge’s story comes as News 3 Now partners with Pelliterri Systems and the Better Business Bureau on an event to help you protect your identity. Learn more about Shredfest, happening April 27, here

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