How scammers have sunk to a new low with an AI obituary scam targeting the grieving

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1 How scammers have sunk to a new low with an AI obituary scam targeting the grieving 1


As if scammers couldn’t sink any lower, there’s a new online scam taking advantage of grieving people. 

It’s a strange pirate scam that uses artificial intelligence to scrape data to build fake obituary websites, exploiting the information of somebody who is deceased in an attempt to scam vulnerable victims.

obit scam 1

Grieving woman at a grave site. (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

We can only hope that this unfortunate situation doesn’t affect you or anyone you care about. If, unfortunately, you have died, there’s little you can do to prevent someone from exploiting your obituary for their own gain. However, these scammers specifically target kind-hearted individuals who are still alive and willing to assist grieving families. It’s essential to remain vigilant and protect yourself and your loved ones from such deceptive practices.

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A woman grieves

Grieving woman sitting on the floor. (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

MORE: HOW IMPOSTERS ARE TRYING TO EXPLOIT YOUR GRIEF AND WALLET IN A NEW FUNERAL SCAM 

How the fake obituary or ‘bereavement scam’ works

Have you ever been on your social media account and seen someone post an obituary page of someone they have lost? Perhaps you’ve clicked on the links to learn about the person, their impact, how they’ve passed or to read the information regarding the funeral.

Maybe you’re even looking to send flowers to the family or a donation in the person’s name. Of course, when someone dies, the last thing you’re probably thinking about is whether it could be a scam. But there’s been a rise in bereavement scams by heartless scammers.

Monitoring search trends

Scammers do this by first monitoring Google search trends to determine when people are searching for obituaries after a death.

WHAT IS ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI)?

Creating bogus obituaries

Then, once the scammers find out who has died, they create bogus obituaries with the help of AI that are hosted on legitimate funeral/memorial websites.

SEO optimization

Next, the scammers optimize these pages using SEO tactics so that the scammer’s page ranks first when someone searches for a specific person’s obituary page.

The trap is set

Then, when the prospective victim goes to click on it, they’ll be redirected to an e-dating or adult entertainment site, or they’ll be given a CAPTCHA prompt that, unbeknownst to them, will install web push notifications or pop-up ads when clicked.

These may give fake virus warnings but link to legitimate landing pages for subscription-based antivirus software programs. Worrying that you might accidentally download a virus, innocent victims instead walk right into a scam.

The scammers profit in two ways

After this, two things can happen:

  • Scammers monetize this via affiliate reward programs from software downloads people are tricked into thinking they need.
  • Scammers get revenue from adverts on the page that pay per impression.

So, while they may not explicitly target you in the same fashion as other scams, they’re still quite creative. Although Secureworks Counter Threat Unit emphasizes that this scam is not currently infecting devices with malware, it is possible that this scam could evolve in that direction in the near future.

WOMAN grieves on phone

Grieving woman on her cellphone. (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

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How to protect yourself from falling for an obituary scam

To protect yourself from one of these scams, there are a few questions to ask yourself if you see an obituary page:

Do you have a connection to the person who has passed away? If you’re not connected in any way to the person you see the obituary page for, don’t click on it. And, if you do know the person, make sure you click on the original link that was shared on social media from the contact you know well; don’t search it in Google, as the first option that comes up could be a fake one.

Know the fake websites. Some fake obituary websites include Nextdoorfuneralhomes.com, Memorialinfoblog.com, Obituaryway.com and Funeralinfotime.com. But keep in mind that some scammers are using common sites, too.

Check if the person has actually passed away. This may seem obvious, but some of these scammers are writing obituaries for people who have not actually passed away!

Look out for suspicious pages. Key signs of a fake obituary include overly descriptive language and an impersonal tone. Many scammers rely on AI to write these obituaries as quickly as they can and don’t usually take the time to review them to make them sound more human. After all, they are in a rush to snag you shortly after the person has died.

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A woman in a reflection. (Kurt “CyberGuy” Knutsson)

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Kurt’s key takeaways

Many scammers prey on emotionally vulnerable people to get their way. Though this obituary scam is next-level, it’s not much different than someone taking advantage of someone during a phone scam, where the victim is rushed to send over money or provide information. So, always keep your wits about you if you’re ever not sure. Before clicking on a link, opening a file or answering that phone call, take a minute.

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