Scam Artists Even Target the Bereaved

October 24, 2012

It is a sad fact of life that scam artists frequently prey on the vulnerable. Unfortunately, some of those victims can include people who have recently lost loved ones. The Better Business Bureau cautions those with elderly parents to bear this in mind if their mother or father passes away.

It might make sense to gently counsel the surviving parent to be alert to the following ploys, which have been reported to BBBs:

  • Contracts for services allegedly signed before the spouse’s death. Less-than-ethical people offering driveway paving, tree-trimming or other home-related services sometimes visit the widow in the weeks after the funeral. When the spouse claims they know nothing about having hired the company, the sales rep produces a contract, allegedly signed by the husband before his death. The signature is typically scribbled or blurred and the service is highly priced. The company states that they won’t require the widow to take the service, but insists that she pay the agreed-upon fee. They remind her how “forgetful” her spouse used to be and that is why he never informed her about the contracted work.
  • Specially-engraved trinkets. After the funeral, the widow receives in the mail a fountain pen or other trinket engraved with the name of the recently deceased. Included with the invoice is a note from the business, with a message saying, “I thought you’d want this to remember him by.” Sometimes the trinket is engraved with the name of the surviving spouse, and the note from the company mentions that her husband had ordered the gift especially for her.
  • Delinquent life insurance premium ploy. An insurance “agent” phones the surviving spouse, with an employee allegedly from the funeral home also on the line. The widower is advised that his wife’s life insurance premium was delinquent and that he must pay $3,000 so that the insurance funds can be released to the funeral home. He is asked for his credit card number to make a partial payment on the premium and to wire the remaining amount to the insurance company. Turns out that both the insurance company “representative” and the funeral home employee are bogus.

Scam artists probably obtain the names and general information of their victims from obituaries published online or in local newspapers. Older Americans are advised to check with the BBB whenever they are contacted by an unknown individual or business demanding payment for an unfamiliar product or service. After the loss of a loved one, never make rush decisions without first ensuring that you are dealing with a trustworthy company.

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Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia & the CSRA, Inc. serving 41 counties in Central Georgia and the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA). This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB at Phone: 1-800-763-4222, Web site: or E-mail: or