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Security & privacy

Dark Web Alert! If someone died in your family, clever thieves are out in full force

When it comes to personal data, cybercriminals know no limits. As long as there’s some potential profit involved, these scammers will try anything just to earn a quick buck.

Identity theft is a big and thriving underground business in the black market. Why? Millions of Americans have their identities stolen every year, and not surprisingly, it’s the fastest-growing crime in the U.S.

We recently told you about how the identities of children are being sold on the Dark Web. That’s quite shocking in and of itself, right?

Well, it turns out, hackers are not only preying on the living, they’re targeting the dead, too!

Read on and learn more about this emerging market of the deceased and how to protect your loved ones from this morbid scam.

The Dark Web market is changing

The sale of stolen medical records of the dead is one of the fastest growing businesses in the Dark Web, according to a new report from ThreatPost.

The statistics are based on health care security firm Cynerio’s research on the Dark Web’s stolen medical data market, where millions of patient records lifted off data breaches and unauthorized intrusions into health care systems are being sold to any willing buyer.

However, as more stolen medical records begin to saturate the black market, the value of this data is starting to dwindle down due to the laws of supply and demand. Simply put, due to the number of data breaches that seem to happen every day, common personal records are now dime a dozen.

In effect, this Dark Web market trend is forcing a number of enterprising hackers to turn to more specialized types of stolen information to command a higher price.

But what is the Dark Web exactly? Click below and listen as Kim Komando breaks it down for you in this two-part podcast episode:

Does this sound morbid to you?

Due to the existing black market trends for stolen information, Cynerio researchers noticed an uptick in vendors who are selling the medical records of the deceased. In one Dark Web listing, they found a vendor who is offering 60,000 stolen medical records that include individual death dates.

Picture of a deceased records shop. Image Credit: ThreatPost

In a related report from AARP, nearly 800,000 of the deceased are targeted every day. That’s around 2,200 a day!

But why are the records of the dead more valuable? Well, similar to the stolen information of babies and children, the personal data of the deceased can be used for fraudulent activity that can go unnoticed for years.

According to AARP, crooks can use this information to open credit card accounts, apply for loans, get phone contracts and commit tax fraud.

Known as “ghosting,” scammers have ample time to use this information for fraud since it can take six months for credit-reporting bureaus, financial institutions, and the Social Security Administration to receive, share or register death records.

And perhaps, this is the best reason why the dead make perfect candidates for identity fraud – they will never ever check their credit!

Aside from financial fraud, scammers are also using the dead’s information for medical care theft. By creating “synthetic identities,” they can combine real and fake data to steal medical benefits and insurance to buy medicine, get treatment and even have surgery.

Where does this data come from?

There are multiple ways hackers can obtain the medical data of the deceased.

Aside from hacking health care institutions and data providers themselves, scammers also scour information from funeral homes, hospitals, clinics and obituaries.

Typically, with a real name, address and date of birth available, they can simply search for and buy the dead person’s Social Security number on the Dark Web for as low as $10.

How to protect your deceased

Ghosting and the use of stolen data to exploit the dead for fraud is a real and serious threat. Here are precautionary steps you can take to protect yourself and your deceased loved ones:

  • Put a “deceased alert” on your loved one by sending copies of the death certificate to the three major credit reporting bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
  • Mail a copy of the death certificate to other financial institutions like banks, credit card companies, insurance companies, where the deceased had accounts. Close the accounts then have the institution mark them with “Closed: Account Holder is Deceased.”
  • Report the death to Social Security as soon as possible by calling 800-772-1213.
  • Cancel the deceased’s driver’s license.
  • Don’t get too detailed when posting in obituaries. Don’t include sensitive information like birthdays, middle names or addresses.
  • Check the deceased’s credit report at after a few weeks for suspicious activity.
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