Contact 6 helps protect you from “grief scams”

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A death in the family is an incredibly emotional time and, of course, you want to honor the person with a good obituary.  But are you giving away too much information?

It's when you're at your lowest.  Your most vulnerable.  The loss of a loved-one is one of our most difficult life moments, but for some, it's an opportunity.

Contact 6 spoke with a man who did not want to be identified, but says his grandmother - after losing her husband of 60 years - became a target because of her wealth and generosity.

"Any Catholic organization or Christian organization that was looking for a donation, they always donated to that," the man said.

The family was trying to process this devastating loss when his grandmother got a call.

"She told us about somebody who called about an outstanding debt that my grandfather had. Now this was odd because my grandfather always paid his bills," the man said.

The person calling said the debt totaled $20,000, and though the amount was outrageous, the man says his grandmother was grieving - not thinking clearly and just wanted to move on.

"She wanted to send out the money right away, but thankfully my mom and my uncle got involved and they said 'who is this person?  Where did they come from?'" the man said.

Fortunately for the family, the so-called debt was never paid.

"She asked for paperwork and he never provided anything, and the calls stopped," the man said.

Could it have been the obituary that gave away too much personal information?

The Bureau of Consumer Protection shows a complaint from another elderly woman who was told her deceased husband "hadn't made some payments" on a life insurance policy - close to $1,500.  The woman sent the money before her family realized it was a scam, but thinks this caller also got enough information from an online obituary.

Captain David Adams with the Sheboygan County Sheriff's Office thinks it's a growing problem.

"Information is [a scammer's] most powerful tool," Captain Adams said.

For more than 40 years, Captain Adams has tried to protect people in Sheboygan County from making the mistake of giving away too much information, particularly when someone is deceased.

"[Scammers] use information to their advantage," Captain Adams said.

A recent example of the damage that can be caused by giving away too much information is the man now known as the "obituary burglar" - Dennis Petrie - who read obituaries online and in the paper in Sheboygan Falls - then robbed people's houses during the services!

But whether you're making a public announcement or not, it's critical that you think twice.

"There is nothing wrong when somebody claims that you owe them, or your loved-one owes them this amount of money, is to say 'I'm not familiar with it. You need to send me the paperwork showing me the invoices, the bills on this,'" Captain Adams said.

Captain Adams says appointing someone who's not grieving as much as you are is your best bet - to make sure the best decisions can be made when the time comes.

Contact 6 says don't get tricked.  Only publish information that is absolutely necessary about the deceased.  Don't go into detail about personal habits, wealth or possessions.  Never give out or confirm sensitive information like credit card or social security numbers.  And if you didn't call them, either have another member of your family call them back or just hang up.

It's not worth the added stress during a difficult time.