March 1, 2012

Identity Theft . . . and Obituaries??

Deuth,-Dave-colorBy David W. Deuth, CFSP
President, Weerts Funeral Home

Remember the good old days when the local newspaper and television station reported the news? They still do, of course…but now there’s a new little thing we call the “World Wide Web” that has stumbled upon the scene, and it has begun providing up-to-the-minute news, communication and information at mind-blowing speeds.

And, by all accounts, this World Wide Web is not going away any time soon.

When I began my funeral directing career in the late 1980s in Minneapolis, I vividly remember writing the obituary by hand to meet the family’s approval and then phoning the newspaper, dictating the information over the phone – including all spelling and punctuation – to the obituary editor. Woof. It was quite a process.

And then I remember when we first got a fax machine . . . why, we could send a piece of paper across the telephone line! We were stunned at the efficiency afforded by such technology.

Not so many years ago, it was commonplace to include the home address of the decedent in their obituary. Then, as more and more home burglaries occurred during visitations and funerals, this publication practice – though helpful to many – was discontinued as it was outweighed by the personal safety and security of the surviving family.

Today, as obituaries are published not only in local newspapers, but also on funeral home, newspaper and other varieties of websites, the information they contain is now available to a world wide audience of would-be imposters, who are scouring for just enough information to create an identity which can be bought, sold and exploited beyond imagination. For this very reason, for well over seven years, I’ve been advising families to omit the full birth date information (including the birth year only), as well as omitting the mother’s maiden name whenever possible in an obituary. A birth date and mother’s maiden name are still very common security questions for all kinds of various accounts; placing them side-by-side in the obituary is decidedly generous – and perhaps irresistible – fodder for the would-be identity thief. And once they connect enough dots and gain access to the Social Security Number, it’s all downhill from there.

The Internet has surely afforded untold efficiencies the world over in terms of productivity, communication and information dissemination…and in ways that we have heretofore never experienced. It has, at the same time, also created a virtually limitless playground for highly sophisticated thieves, who have fabricated a booming market for something most people don’t even realize can be bought and sold.

We think your identity is pretty important. And we’re going to do our part to help protect it.

Remember Well.