Edmonton

Be cautious about details included in family obituaries, Edmonton police warn

To avoid falling victim to scam artists, Edmonton police are warning people to be cautious about how much information they include in obituaries.

Scam artists can use birth dates, addresses, employer names to steal identities

Edmonton police say scam artists can use details gained from published obituaries to steal identities and commit fraud. (The Associated Press/Elise Amendola)

Grandma just died and her family wants a nice tribute in the form of a fulsome and heartfelt obituary.

But Edmonton police are warning people to be cautious about just how much information they include.

In one recent example, police say a suspect allegedly used obituary information to commit more than 110 instances of fraud since July 2018.

"It's an awful thing to have to think about when your loved one has just passed away," Det. Liam Watson said Thursday in a news release. "But unfortunately, information like a birth date or details about an employer may be all a criminal needs to steal your family member's identity."

Criminals can use information provided in public obituaries to contact former employers, for example, or utility providers. If they can find personal details about the deceased they can use the information to commit identity fraud, police said.

The Edmonton Police Service is encouraging families to take proactive steps when a loved one dies. When posting an obituary, do not use the day and month of birth of the deceased. Try not to include information on employment history, or home address.

If acting as an executor for an estate:

  • Alert credit bureaus at the earliest opportunity, so a flag can be placed on the deceased's profile.
  • Alert Canada Revenue Agency and Service Canada, so a flag can be placed on the deceased's social insurance number and CRA account.
  • Inform financial institutions used by the deceased, as well as utility providers, including cellphone provider.
  • Monitor bank and utility account activity until they are closed.
  • You may be asked to provide a copy of the death certificate and a copy of the will identifying the executor to complete the above steps.

In 2018, there were three other investigations related to information taken from obituaries, police said. The deceased's identities were fraudulently used in the following ways:

  • A condo was rented using the deceased's name. The suite was then abandoned, and the rent left unpaid. 
  • The deceased's identity was used to sell a vehicle, open a telephone account and obtain a rental vehicle.
  • The deceased's vehicle, containing a wallet with a driver's license, Alberta health card, SIN card, debit card, and two cellphones, was stolen. 

Those responsible were identified and charged with fraud and identity theft.

Police say obituary information is also used to commit other scams:

  • Grandparent scam — the fraudster contacts the surviving spouse and uses the name of a grandchild listed in the obituary, as well as personal information they find on the grandchild's social media sites or through internet searches;
  • Employment scam — the fraudster obtains the deceased's personal information and uses it to acquire employment under the deceased's name, thereby directing the income tax owed to the identity of the deceased.
  • Income/benefits fraud — the deceased's identity is used to apply for senior's benefits and pensions through the federal government or to redirect pensions or benefits the deceased was receiving to someone else.
  • Bank fraud — bank accounts, lines of credit and credit cards are opened in the deceased's name.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.