Scams Target Wives Listed in Published Obituaries

I’ve written a fair amount of obits for families, many of which have been published in newspapers. I always enjoy the process of making the family’s stories, anecdotes and facts weave together in a concise yet detailed remembrance of their beloved. However, before publishing my stepfather’s obituary I never knew the risks involved.

When my stepfather died, we wrote and submitted his photo with obituary to the local newspaper. A few days after the obit appeared, my mother began receiving strange overseas phone calls demanding money. All the callers claimed to be working for the Federal government. One stated he was from the IRS and stated my stepfather owed back-taxes and if my mother did not comply, she would be sued. Another stated she was calling from the state department, and was conducting an investigation on my stepfather for fraud . All of the callers told my mother to have her attorney contact them, giving her a phone number with a (San Francisco/bay area) 415 area code.  Also, after each threatening call, each caller would sign off with the same farewell message: “And have a blessed day.”

As the calls kept coming, my mother got so stressed out and frustrated that she started yelling back at them.  I begged her to change her number. Once the number was changed, the calls stopped.  Interestingly, when my mother finally called to have her number changed, the lady at phone company had a similar story. The lady’s mother and stepmother also received fraudulent calls after her father died and yes, his obituary too was published in the local newspaper. 

Since my mother was involved in handling their finances, she knew these callers’ claims was false. But what if she hadn’t known? It’s likely such scare tactics might work on a less informed spouse.  

Nowadays, fewer people are keeping a landline at home and even fewer have listed phone numbers. For families who still have listed phone numbers, I’m not sure I would recommend publishing a loved one’s obituary.

Have you ever written and published an obituary? Do you think it’s still safe to publish a loved one’s obituary?  Have you known anyone who has been targeted for scams after publishing an obit?