Anti-Scam Tips for Surviving Spouses
In the grief, confusion and stress of losing a spouse, survivors make the perfect target for scam artists.
Newspaper obituaries provide a service in notifying a large number of people in a short period of time
about the death of a community member. Unfortunately, they also provide a list of potential victims to
scam artists and thieves looking for emotionally vulnerable and, during memorial services, physically
In the grief and confusion following a spouse’s death, you can’t be expected to remember websites and
phone numbers for organizations that help uncover the unscrupulous. A few simple guidelines, however,
can help you avoid most of the common scams.
The most immediate vulnerability will be an empty house. Through an obituary,
a thief can ascertain when the family will be away, and with friends and relatives
coming and going, neighbors may assume the person going in while the family
is gone has permission to do so. Ask a friend or neighbor to house sit – not just
watch from next door – during visitations and services. (This rule also works well
for weddings and anniversary parties that have been announced in the
Treat anything from an unknown party with suspicion. Invoices, calls regarding
orders for products or services, investment opportunities and claims for money
owed can all be scams looking to part distracted grieving survivors with their
money. Pay those bills you know to be legitimate – mortgage, utilities, credit
cards, car payments. Set everything else aside. If you don’t have caller ID on
your phone, consider getting it so you know before you answer who is on the
line. And remember that companies that pressure you to make decisions or
send money during a difficult time probably don’t have good reasons for
Consider a checks-and-balances approach to decision making, especially
regarding finances. Ask a family member, friend or trusted advisor such as an
accountant, attorney or financial professional to review invoices and other
claims before you send money. You will still have control of your money, and
you’ll have a second opinion from someone you trust.
If you and your spouse did not have existing relationships with an attorney,
accountant or financial advisor, do your homework before selecting someone
during a time of crisis. Your best source will be referrals from friends, family
members and associates. Interview at least two or three before settling on a
professional. Again, consider establishing checks and balances by asking the
attorney, accountant and financial advisor to work as a team. If one of them
resists, you may want to consider replacing him or her with another
professional in that field.
Surviving spouses generally fall into two groups – those who believe they have plenty of money and those
afraid they don’t have enough. A financial advisor or accountant can review your finances with you,
including any lump sum payments from life insurance or a 401k, and help you determine where you
stand. Most professionals who work with widows and widowers recommend waiting at least a year to
make major, irrevocable decisions such as selling or purchasing a home. Beware of anyone pressuring
you to make such a decision within months of your spouse’s death.
Support systems like family, friends, coworkers and trusted advisors become even more important in
times of crisis. Take advantage of their willingness and ability to help you make decisions, particularly
when it comes to requests for money.
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