A relatively new way cyber thieves steal wealth is by taking over the identities of the deceased, an act known as ghosting or ghost hacking.
Anecdotes and some news reports indicate incidents of ghost hacking are increasing rapidly.
There are many variations of the crime, but the main approach used by the crooks is to search for news that someone passed away recently, such as through online memorials and death notices.
Then, they try to hack into and take over someone’s social media accounts, email accounts, and the like. This often is easier to do soon after someone has passed away, because no one is monitoring the accounts and looking for suspicious activity.
Once into the accounts, the thieves have many options. Hackers who are more malicious than greedy send spam, scams, malicious messages, and malware to friends and family of the deceased.
But most of the thieves are after money. They might obtain enough personal information about the deceased to hack into more valuable accounts, such as financial accounts, or to steal the identity and take out credit cards, loans, and the like in the deceased’s name.
When a friend or family member passes away, try to ensure that someone knows about the digital assets and is monitoring them. Ask friends and family if they’ve included their digital lives in their estate plans.
It’s important to include digital assets in your estate planning. Decide who is going to be responsible for your digital life after you pass away. Compile an inventory of all your digital assets and accounts and be sure to include detailed information about how the responsible person can access them.
On your accounts, use strong passwords. The best defense is to require two-factor authentication before entry. This means that after you enter the username and password, the account sends a code to your cell phone or email that you have to enter before being allowed access to the account.
Also, review the estate planning tools provided by some providers of social media and online accounts. Facebook has a process for putting an account in memorial status after someone dies so that changes can’t be made to the account. Google allows you to appoint someone to handle your accounts after you pass away.
Cyber thieves aren’t the only reason to include digital assets in your estate plan. Many survivors have trouble managing and settling a loved one’s estate because they don’t have information about their digital accounts and how to access them. It takes some survivors weeks or months to locate all the digital assets and learn how to access them. Performing simple tasks such as paying bills is delayed until the information is uncovered.
Don’t let part of your estate be wasted and don’t impose extra burdens on your survivors. Create an inventory of all your digital devices and assets and make sure your estate executor and other key people have a copy or know how to locate it.
Follow me on Twitter. Check out my website or some of my other work here.