Thirtyseven4 EDR Security: Obituary Scams

When you hear the phrase, “the lowest of the low” in describing a particular group of (despicable) people, who immediately comes to your mind? 

In the cyber security world, with cybercriminals, hackers, criminal bot and ransomware organizations, “the lowest of the low” list is quite plentiful, with many participants well-deserving of that title.  However, one type of scammer has emerged and is taking-the-cake over the others.

Recently, the Thirtyseven4 EDR Security ThreatLab has seen a significant uptick in obituary scams. Yes, you (unfortunately) read that correctly. Obituaries and death notices are being actively exploited by online criminals, as a profitable means to target the deceased and their mourning families. 

During the often-shocking times of sorrow and grief that surround families in the wake of a loved one’s death, people are typically heartbroken, scattered, and more vulnerable than in other stages of their lives, and cyber-thugs are capitalizing on this.   

Not sure how much lower we can get as humans and as a society than stealing from the dead, and taking financial advantage of people dealing with death, which is often one of the most difficult times people experience in life. 

And yet, search for an obituary of a friend or loved one online and you may have a whole new reason to mourn…

There are two primary obituary scams making their rounds and both involve (the lowest of the low) scammers using written and published obituary information to collect (steal) personal details of recently deceased people in order to perpetrate loved ones and family by creating mock-obituary-efforts that siphon money and donations. 

One angle of obituary-hacking involves phone scams.  After gathering and researching the personal and family information provided within an obituary, the scammer contacts the family pretending to be the funeral home, cemetery, or a charitable organization, in order to obtain their financial information. For example, if an obituary details that the death came after a long, hard fought battle with cancer, the shameless scammer may reach out on behalf of the American Cancer Society. 

A second prevailing method of obituary-hacking involves website scams.  Similar to obituary phone scams, after gathering and researching the personal and family information provided within the obituary or on social media sites, an online scammer will publish a fake obituary website or fraudulent donation site in honor of the deceased.  These phishing sites are created to steal personal information or as a lucrative means to deceive family and friends into making online donations to the family or to charitable organizations. Often an obituary will read, “In lieu of flowers” to encourage other ways of honoring someone who has passed away, and the obituary-hackers will direct those well-meaning funds to themselves under false pretenses.

To avoid falling victim to such scams, the Thirtyseven4 EDR Security ThreatLab advises that you exercise extreme caution with any unsolicited email or phone call you might receive in relation to a recent death or obituary.  Be especially cautious and even suspicious in relation to calls or emails from a person asking for money or information (no matter who they claim to be). In most cases, the scammer will attempt to create a sense of urgency to act fast. Take your time to conduct your own research, give it a few days and ask for a call back number once you’ve had an opportunity to fully evaluate and discuss with others the information (and requests) that were provided. As with any unsolicited call or email, never provide highly sensitive personal information such as social security numbers, credit card details, or banking information.

When a loved one dies, it’s normal to want to share their life story, accomplishments, and beautiful memories with others, whether in an obituary or on social media. But as you share personal accounts and cherished memories, you must remember that (unfortunately), “the lowest of low” are also listening and reading about the latest death notices too.  Including information like their date and place of birth, middle name, maiden name, mother’s maiden name, employment, or adding the personal information of surviving relatives will very possibly open the door to building a profile for identity theft.

It is a rotten shame that we must be on our security-guard when the death of a loved one comes, and we are faced with some of the most traumatic times in our lives.  But a wise and proactive person can keep their focus on the loved one whose life is being remembered, rather than becoming a victim of obituary-hacking, if they will keep their eyes open, and their mind sharp, even during a time of great sorrow. 

Don’t stoop (or be duped) to the level of the “lowest of the low”.  Stay safe and be smart, in daytime, nighttime, and in mourning.

Trust us to protect you.

About Thirtyseven4 EDR Security:

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