State consumer protection agency warns of grief scams
MADISON – The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) asks relatives of the recently deceased to be on alert for requests for money or personal and banking information that may pop up after a loved one's death—including the details in an obituary posting.
The Consumer Protection Bureau recently heard from a central Wisconsin resident whose widowed mother-in-law was scammed out of more than $1,400 in the days following her husband's death. She received an unsolicited call from an individual who claimed to be with a company that held a life insurance policy from her husband's last place of employment. The man claimed that the husband had missed premium payments dating back to 2010, and that the widow needed to make a payment using Green Dot MoneyPak cards in order to bring the account up to date.
When the woman's son-in-law found out about the call and suspected that she had been scammed, he tried to have the cards cancelled…but the crook had already drained the cards.
The scammer on the phone was not a representative of the national insurance firm that he claimed to work for, and the information that he used to make the story realistic was probably gathered from the husband's obituary, including the widow's name, the husband's place of employment and the name of the funeral home where the services took place.
To avoid being scammed in the aftermath of a family member's death, consider the following tips:
• An unsolicited request from a stranger for money via wire transfer or a prepaid debit/credit card account number (including Green Dot MoneyPak cards) is a scam. Once you have wired the funds or given the scammer the account number from the prepaid card, the money will be gone and nearly impossible to trace.
• Have a discussion with family members about how to handle any unsolicited requests for money or information that may follow a loved one's passing. Have a family member or close friend assigned to assist an elderly or confused widow or widower in the case that these calls start coming in.
• Be skeptical of claims made in phone calls, emails or letters received.
• The information in an obituary can be used by scammers to add legitimacy to their claims.
• Keep personal and banking information secure. Never give out these details on an unsolicited call, even if the person on the other end of the call claims to represent a company or government agency that you have an account with.
For additional information or to file a complaint, visit the Consumer Protection Bureau at datcp.wisconsin.gov, call the Consumer Information Hotline at 800-422-7128 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.