Elder Scams – The Obituary Debt

Elder Scams – The Obituary Debt

Barry E. Haimo, Esq.

June 11, 2015

Financial scams that target elderly Americans have become alarmingly prevalent in recent years.

It is estimated that billions of dollars are lost by our country’s elderly every year, and there are an estimated five million separate incidents of elder financial abuse annually.

The elder financial abuse epidemic has grown as our senior population swells and baby boomers retire with considerable assets. Scams range from sweepstakes fraud to healthcare scams to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) imposter phone calls.

One of the most common and more disgraceful types of scams is the obituary scam. This scam takes advantage of seniors while they are in the vulnerable grieving process. Tragically, Geraldine White fell victim to this type of scam after the death of her husband left her heartbroken and nervous.

Beware of Obituary Scams

Gregory White had been battling lung cancer for many months, so it was both heartbreaking and a relief when he finally passed away. Geraldine was grateful that she was at least given ample time to say goodbye to her husband. She was also relieved that she was financially comfortable because of their careful estate and financial planning.

To honor her deceased husband, who had been a decorated, much-loved firefighter in their community, Geraldine arranged for a full-page obituary in the town’s newspaper. In the obituary, Geraldine praised her husband’s accomplishments and remembered his passion for astronomy and cooking. She asked her community to pray for his grieving children and her family.

“He leaves his wife of 65 years, Geraldine Natalie White, his son, Ryan White, his daughter, Pamela White, three grandchildren, and many close friends,” Geraldine wrote.

After a few weeks, the obituary was published, the funeral proceedings were finished, and condolences from her family and friends had been offered. Geraldine prepared to settle into her new life as a widow. Her children had returned to their homes in the northeast with her grandchildren, and Geraldine was left alone in the Whites’ lofty beachside home.

One afternoon, Geraldine was surprised by a knock on the door. When she answered, a young man dressed in a delivery service uniform was standing on her doorstep holding a very large box.

“Are you the wife of Gregory White?” the man asked.

“Yes,” Geraldine admitted, surprised to hear her husband’s name spoken by a stranger.

“I’ve got a package for your husband,” the man told her. The man went on to explain that Mr. White had ordered a highly advanced, custom telescope from their company a few months ago. The telescope was finally finished, and he was here to deliver it, collect a signature, and the final $400 owed on the telescope. “Mr. White already made a $200 deposit on the telescope,” the stranger said, “but the balance needs to be paid in cash.”

“I’m sorry, my husband recently passed away,” Geraldine informed him.

“How terrible,” said the man. “I am truly sorry for your loss. Unfortunately, his deposit is nonrefundable.”

Geraldine said she understood, and assured him that she would pay the rest of the money her husband owed. It would be a fitting way to pay homage to her husband’s memory and love of astronomy, Geraldine reasoned. Good thing she always kept emergency cash in a safe in the guest bedroom! She started thinking of where to donate the newly acquired telescope, since she obviously had no reason to keep it. “That’s what he would have wanted,” she thought.

Geraldine paid the man the $400 owed, plus a $30 tip for delivering such a large, heavy package on his own. The man thanked her, dropped the package on her living room floor, and hurried away.

Geraldine’s eyes were failing and her fingers were weak from arthritis, so it took her several minutes to find a pair of scissors and open the box, which was secured with several layers of tape. When she finally lifted the flaps, Geraldine let out a short cry of surprise. All that was inside was a collection of tattered old magazines and newspapers.

Protecting You and Your Loved Ones from Fake Debt Scams

Geraldine’s story is an unsettlingly common one. In many fake debt scams, con artists use obituaries from the local paper to identify recent widows and widowers to target. After identifying victims, these con artists often call, visit their target’s home, or even show up at the deceased spouse’s funeral. The con artists then demand money for an alleged outstanding debt left behind by the deceased, or immediate payment for a package the recently deceased delivered.

Geraldine was fortunate that she was protected by careful estate planning. $400 was a high price to pay for a stack of old magazines and a hard lesson, but Geraldine could afford to part with the cash, and learned quickly to be more careful with her hard-earned finances moving forward. You can ensure you and your loved ones are financially protected with a strong estate plan that includes a strong last will and testament and possibly even a trust and provides plenty of cushion for unexpected events and mishaps such as this one. Talk to a trustworthy Florida estate planning attorney to ensure your estate plan is solid and up-to-speed.

Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Haimo Law
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