How a new funeral scam aims to take advantage of your sadness and finances through impersonation

A new funeral scam targets surviving family members of those who recently died. Scammers reach out to the survivors and pose as funeral home officials.

How a new funeral scam aims to take advantage of your sadness and finances through impersonation

Just when you believed that scammers could not get much worse, they manage to sink to new depths.

Did you find the Facebook fraud with the phony grief posts that criminals are using to take over people's profiles appalling? Things worsen.

While the Facebook post scam ran with fake bereavement posts to glean information about supportive friends, families and even strangers, this new scam targets actual surviving family members of those recently deceased. The scammers reach out to families pretending to be from funeral homes and demand more payment or threaten the cancellation of the funeral.

It is easy to see how distraught loved ones might fall for such scams as they are already under immense stress from losing a loved one. While the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has alerted those in the funeral industry, below are some key steps you can take to prevent you or anyone you care about from falling for this horrendous scam.

As with most scams, these charlatans are banking on the fact that any urgency they present you with will prevent you from thinking first. They are hoping that catching you in a vulnerable state and giving you an ultimatum will result in action taken before the victim or their family can think it through.

This scam is especially insidious because who would think of preying on family members of someone who is recently deceased? Forewarned is forearmed. So, hopefully, knowing this scam has been committed will give you pause if you should run into such a situation.

Anyone can change the name of their outgoing number (the phone number you are getting a call from) so it may even say in the caller ID that it is from the funeral home you have employed.

If you are uncertain, tell them you will call them right back and hang up the phone. Find the number on the estimate or invoice you received directly from the funeral home and call to verify what is going on. The funeral home’s contact information can be found on the general price list the funeral home provided.

Scammers don’t make the urgent payment needed easy to give. They have a tendency to request odd things like a wire transfer, gift cards, cryptocurrency or even a check payback, where they send you a check claiming there was a clerical or mechanical error with their bank, have you deposit the check then have you send it back.

This is all to stop the money from being traced back to them or prevent you from recovering your money. The funeral home should have gone over the types of payments accepted when the general price list was provided. If there is a strong deviation from the most common forms of payment, hang up.

While life is full of surprises, funeral homes should not be. They are regulated by the FTC to provide explicit pricing and information to consumers. A full explanation of the FTC’s oversight in this arena can be found under the "funeral rule."

As mentioned in No. 2 of this list, each funeral provider is required to provide a general price list, which should disclose fees for any services involved in a funeral and pricing for most aspects of the funeral. If a scammer calls claiming new fees for services or items, remember that all those factors would have been provided to you with the general price list and agreed upon when hiring the funeral home.

While it may seem worthwhile to give the scammer a tongue-lashing, it is not worth your time, energy and further violation of privacy. You do not know what information these scammers are gathering during the conversation, and it is best to hang up as soon as possible and report it to the FTC here.

Consider using an identity theft protection service to shield yourself from potential scams, especially those related to funeral fraud. This is more for you than the deceased's personal and financial information.

Identity theft companies can monitor personal information like your Social Security Number, phone number and email address and alert you if it is being sold on the dark web or being used to open an account. They can also assist you in freezing your bank and credit card accounts to prevent further unauthorized use by criminals. See my tips and best picks on how to protect yourself from identity theft.

Consider these essential precautions to safeguard your family’s privacy and financial well-being from scammers after a loved one has died.

Craft obituaries mindfully: When writing an obituary, omit sensitive details that could be exploited for identity theft. Avoid including the deceased’s date and place of birth, middle name, maiden name, mother’s maiden name and home address. Additionally, refrain from mentioning the date and time of the funeral to prevent potential burglaries during the service.

Promptly report to Social Security: If a loved one has died, immediately notify the Social Security Administration by calling 800-772-1213. This step ensures benefits are appropriately handled.

Inform the IRS: Send a copy of the death certificate to the IRS. This allows officials to flag the deceased’s tax account, preventing any fraudulent activity.

Notify financial institutions: Reach out to banks and other financial institutions where the late loved one had accounts. If you decide to close these accounts, request that they be marked as "Closed: Account holder is deceased."

Alert credit bureaus: Contact the major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to have them place a death notice in the deceased’s credit file. This step helps prevent unauthorized credit applications.

Monitor credit reports: Obtain a copy of the deceased’s credit report shortly after death and again a few months later. Regular checks can help detect any fraudulent activity.

Dealing with debts: Don’t let debt collectors intimidate you into paying financial obligations for a late spouse, parent or sibling. Generally, the estate is responsible for debts, not the survivors. However, there are exceptions for cosigned loans and jointly held financial accounts. For specific guidance, consult the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Exercise caution with contacts: Be cautious if you receive communication from "long-lost" relatives or friends of the deceased, especially on social media. Verify their identity by asking family and old friends if they recognize the person.

Scammers are skilled at coming up with novel ways to take advantage of the weak. Even if avoiding con artists is the last thing that should be on your mind when you are grieving for a loved one, it's crucial to be knowledgeable and in control so that you can focus your time and attention on what really counts: remembering our departed loved ones.