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7 Common Scams to Look Out for when Someone Dies

When someone dies, their loved ones are sometimes targeted by scammers looking to take advantage of the situation. It's important to know what scams to look out for since you're at a higher risk of being targeted when you're grieving. Here are some of the most common scams to look out for and how you can protect yourself from becoming a victim.

Why are people who are grieving targeted for scams?

Scammers know that people who are grieving are more likely to let their guard down and may not be thinking as clearly as they normally would. They also know that people who are grieving are often more trusting and may be more willing to give money or information to someone who seems like they're trying to help. For these reasons, scammers will often target people who have recently lost a loved one.

How to identify a scammer

There are a few key things to look for that can help you spot a scammer. Knowing these signs can be incredibly useful as you can sometimes be a target for scamming after a loved one has passed. Scammers will often:

  • Try to rush you into making a decision
  • Ask for personal information like the deceased's Social Security number or bank account number
  • Promise inheritance money or other funds, or claim you need to "pay a fee" of some kind
  • Say they need access to your accounts or the accounts of the deceased
  • Threaten legal action if you don't comply
  • Be aggressive and persuasive

If someone is doing any of these things, be very cautious and do not give them any personal information.

How to know if you are being scammed on the phone

If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be from a government agency or a company that the deceased did business with, and they ask for personal information like your Social Security number, credit card number, or bank account number, do not give them any information. These are all common ways that scammers try to get the deceased’s personal information so they can steal their identity or their money.

Hang up immediately and call the agency or company back at a number you know to be legitimate to verify that the call was truly from them. Do not use any phone numbers that the caller provides to you, as these could also be fake.

You can report phone scams to the FTC by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.

How to tell if someone is scamming you online

  • There are a few things to look out for that can indicate that someone is trying to scam you online.
  • They'll often email from private email addresses (e.g. while claiming they work for a large company.
  • They may also have poor grammar and spelling in their emails.
  • Scammers will often create fake websites that look like the website of a legitimate company, but with a different URL (e.g. instead of
  • They'll often be aggressive in the email and will request you to send them private information immediately.
  • They may have a link to click to submit your information. (Never open links in emails from addresses you don't recognize or trust.)
  • They may message you on a social media platform as a way to connect, claiming to be a long lost friend, government official, agency representative, billing collector, etc. (Note: Officials from any kind of agency generally do not search out people on social media to try and get them to pay for things!)

If you're ever unsure about whether an offer is legitimate, do some research on the company or individual before you give them any money or personal information. You can also typically simply copy and paste the email content or message content into Google to see if others have received similar scam emails in the past.

Common scams

There are many different types of scams that exist, so it's important to be aware of the most common ones. Here are a few inheritance scams to look out for.

Inheritance account scam

With this scam, you may receive an email, phone call or text message about an inheritance that you are due to receive. The inheritance is typically from the individual who has recently passed away, but it may be from someone else. The scammer will often say that the inheritance is worth a large sum of money, and they will ask for your bank account information so they can deposit the money into your account. They may also ask you to simply email them or call them at a specified number.

This is a scam, and you should never give out your personal information to someone who contacts you out of the blue about an inheritance. If you have recently lost a loved one, be aware that this scam may target you specifically as scammers know that you may be more vulnerable during this time.

Debtors scam

With this scam, the scammer will typically call you and say that you owe them money, since the deceased owed them money. They may claim to be from a government agency or a collection agency and may even threaten legal action if you do not pay the deceased's debts. They could also say that they are calling from a bank or credit card company.

The best thing to do is to hang up immediately (or ignore any emails or text messages you receive), and if you're concerned, you can call the government agency or company back at a number that you know to be legitimate to verify that the call was truly from them.

Billing agency scam

Another common scam after someone dies is when a scammer will say that they are from a billing agency, such as a utility company or doctor's office, and claim that the deceased owed them money. This is a typical money scam where they'll ask you to send them money immediately or will ask for a wire transfer of the funds be sent to their agency (or personal account).

Again, it's best to hang up immediately (or ignore any emails or text messages you receive). If they claim to be from a utility company or any other legitimate company, simply call the company's official number and speak to a representative to figure out if there's any action you need to take.

Tax scam

Tax scams after someone dies are unfortunately quite common. The scammer will call you and say that you need to pay inheritance taxes or estate taxes on the inheritance you are receiving. They'll likely threaten legal action or say you'll lose your inheritance if you don't pay up right away. This is one of the financial scams that can make you feel particularly scared, especially if you're due to receive a large inheritance.

The best thing to do is not to panic and simply hang up the phone (or ignore any emails or texts you receive). The IRS will never call you about taxes that are owed, they will only ever contact you through the mail. If you're concerned, you can always call the IRS directly at their official number to ask about any inheritance taxes that may be owed.

Memorial gifts scam

A memorial gifts scam may be harder to spot, since the scammer will play specifically on your loved one's good nature and their passing in order to get you to pay. They'll likely claim the decedent left behind a memorial gift (such as a necklace, a thumbprint pendant, or some other small trinket) and that all you have to do is pay to receive this gift since there's an outstanding invoice.

Of course, there is no memorial gift and you have no obligation to pay for anything. The best thing to do in this case is simply ignore the request and report it if possible.

Life insurance scam

Life insurance can be confusing and not understanding the ins and outs of receiving a life insurance payout is one way scammers will try to take advantage of you. With this scam, the scammer will pose as a life insurance agent and say that in order for you to receive the life insurance payout, you need to pay some sort of fee first. They may also claim that the policy has been canceled and try to sell you a new one.

You should never have to pay any type of fee in order to receive a life insurance payout and an insurance company will never try to sell you a new policy after the death of the policyholder. If you're unsure, you can always call the insurance company directly at their customer service number to ask about the status of the policy and the steps you need to take to receive the payout.

Friend from the past scam

This scam is less easy to spot as many friends, coworkers, family members, and old acquaintances tend to come out of the woodwork whenever a loved one passes away. With this scam, someone you’ve never met (or someone who you have, but hasn’t contacted you in years) will reach out to you and express their condolences for your loss. They'll then go on to say that they were just recently in touch with your loved one before they died and that your loved one mentioned wanting to leave you something (usually a sum of money). The scammer will likely say they can help facilitate this transfer for a small fee.

Another version of this is for the "friend" to say your loved one promised them a sum of money (or some other inheritance) if anything ever happened to them.

Of course, there is no inheritance and the person you're speaking to is not really your friend (or at least, not anymore). You also have zero requirement to pay off someone who claims they're entitled to something your loved one promised them before they passed away. The best thing to do in this case is simply ignore their message and move on. If possible, you can also report them so they can't take advantage of anyone else.

How can I protect my loved one's identity after a scam?

Scammers will often try their hand at stealing a dead person's identity or using a deceased person's social security number after they pass away. Identity fraud after a death is a serious problem and something to be aware of. To protect your loved one's identity, you should report their death to the credit bureaus as soon as possible. This will help to prevent scammers from opening new accounts in their name.

Who do I contact if someone is using a deceased person’s identity?

If you think that someone is using a deceased person's identity, you should contact the credit bureaus:

Online: Experian Freeze Center
Phone: 1-888-397-3742
By mail, write to:
Experian Security Freeze
PO Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013

Online: Equifax Credit Report Services
Phone: 1-800-685-1111
By mail, write to:
Equifax Information Services LLC
PO Box 105788
Atlanta, GA 30348-5788

Online: TransUnion Credit Freezes
Phone: 1-888-909-8872
By mail, write to:
TransUnion LLC
PO Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016

You can also contact the Federal Trade Commission and file a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Scams are unfortunately quite common, especially after the death of a loved one. The best way to protect yourself is to be aware of the most common scams and how to spot them. If you're ever unsure, always err on the side of caution and contact the company or organization directly to verify any information you've been given.

If you think you may have been a victim of an inheritance scam, you can report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can also contact your state's attorney general's office or the Better Business Bureau to get assistance and support.

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Last updated November 3, 2022
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