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No respect for the grieving

Scammers pay close attention to death of your loved ones

Scammers are criminals who will say and do anything to separate you from your money. You would think that there would be some boundary of decency scammers would not cross, like the death of a loved one. Rather than respecting the grief and suffering of people during times of bereavement, fraudsters look at death as a special opportunity to lie, cheat and steal.

Obituaries often appear in the newspaper and online with details of the deceased and survivors. Scammers comb through this information seeking personal details, including names and locations of survivors. The obituaries often spell out the date, time and place of calling hours and burial ceremonies, which have been used by criminals to schedule a robbery when family members are away from home.

If funeral details are published, take care to lock your home, turn on your alarm system, and ask neighbors to watch your property while you are out.

Many homes are left empty when someone dies. The empty home can be an easy target for burglars and thieves.

During the time it takes to list and sell an empty property, make sure that mail and newspapers are canceled, the lawn is mowed, and the home is lit at night with timers. Make the home appear as normal, lived-in and maintained by an occupant.

Scammers may call, claiming they represent credit card companies for unpaid balances, contractors for unpaid work or even the IRS claiming the deceased owed taxes.

The signature of a scam is a high-pressure demand to pay NOW, and usually with a wire transfer or gift card. It’s a good idea to inform anyone pressing for money that all claims have to be made in writing, which must be approved by the attorney representing the estate — whether or not you have actually retained such an attorney. Scammers will quickly vanish if they think fake claims are going to be inspected by an actual lawyer.

Death is also the chance for an identity thief to steal Social Security numbers, birthdays, bank and credit card information in order to construct a new false identity around the details of the deceased. Stopping mail deliveries after death of a loved one prevents scammers from intercepting bills and statements containing the financial details and other personal information.

A deceased relative may leave behind a big pile of old bills, statements and canceled checks. Don’t put them in the trash or recycling bin — shred them all to bits.

Watch out for companies suddenly offering to liquidate the estate of a loved one, especially ones offering quick visits and home appraisals. Thieves may use the death as a chance to see the contents of an empty home, making it ripe for robbery.

If you are contacted by anyone offering such services, they got the information from an obituary. No legitimate appraiser will use an obituary to solicit new business. Deal only with appraisers you have contacted yourself.

Scammers have a scheme ready to go for every major event of a person’s life — and even afterward. The death of a loved one is a time of emotion, sadness, and stress. Criminals have little respect for the living, even less for the dead. Knowing how death-related scams work can protect survivors from having to deal with the affairs of the departed, months or years after they have been laid to rest.

If you have a question on a possible scam, talk to a family member or call your local police department. Seniors can also call their county Senior Services Unit for more information about scams. In Mahoning County, call Bob Schaeffer at 330-480-5078. In Trumbull County, call Don Hyde at 330-675-7096.

Protect yourself

Dave Long answers questions during a series of monthly talks on the latest scams, why scammers target seniors and how to protect personal information 1 p.m. fourth Thursday of every month at the Poland Township Government Center, 3339 Dobbins Road, Poland.

To report a scam or to ask questions, seniors may call county Senior Services Units. In Mahoning County, call Bob Schaeffer at 330-480-5078. In Trumbull County, call Don Hyde at 330-675-7096.

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