Ghosting the Afterlife: Fake Digital Identities
Digital Legacy in the afterlife
When a person's identity can be obtained falsely, this person's good name could be used to commit crimes other than simple fraud and forgery.
When people think of identity theft, they usually think of pickpockets or people sifting through bags of personal documents at the dump for bank statements or legal documents. But in reality, social media and being connected to each other through the internet leaves us much more vulnerable to identity theft than neglecting to shred our bank credit card receipts. Hackers often make short work of even the most sophisticated electronic fortifications.
UNLIKELY TARGETS OF ATTACK
But, what about victims who will always remain silent? What about people who have passed away?
There are cemeteries full of those victims. It's an old story with a modern twist. Not long ago, a person could conceivably walk through a cemetery and take a name and a date of birth from a tombstone and effectively become that person. Without photograph IDs, communications networks, fingerprinting, or other non-directory accounts of someone's identity, an entire persona could be created. Today, this abundance of information, which was supposed to protect someone's identity, can be used to make it even more difficult to clear someone's name.
In the near future, due to social media, a person's entire life will be documented and up for semi-public display online. Every moment, from their birth to first steps, awkward teenage years, college parties, weddings, grandchildren, retirements, and even death will be accounted for in some, if not several social media outlets. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and more that haven't even been developed yet! Typically, an online identity thief is using social media to represent themselves as a person who has died. This opens the deceased's life up for exploitation and allows the fake profile to gain credibility to others that the thieves can target within social media. Bots or spammer accounts often look fishy, but with the backing of a history of viable online presence, the stolen account looks closer to the real thing, because it was!
Worse still is that families are often helpless to stop this, since the owner of the accounts is the only one who could access them to shut them down, unless provisions were made. An identity thief knows ways to work around this, and has an entire wellspring of data they can use at their whim. Law enforcement isn't in as much of a hurry to stop a crime committed against a dead person, and sometimes this can be lost in legalities, often between the worlds of criminal and civil litigation. Many people who are postmortem victims of identity theft have no heirs or estate to be notified of anything suspicious going on with their credit or accounts made in their name. They can be used for years without anyone being the wiser. To an identity thief, this may be perceived as a victimless crime.
What is lost is a person's reputation. Their loved ones are stuck with a legal mess to clean up, and the possibility of further investigations and continual involvement with law enforcement. All the while, their good name is dragged through the mud for years, connected with financial and violent crimes, and political views and fake news.
Like anything that is posted to the internet, these infractions against their character, and the impact the periphery crimes associated with identity theft have just don't go away.
- Who closes the accounts?Being unable to close accounts leaves a person's social media presence susceptible to attack and inappropriate use.
- Lack of advocacy for the dead. Some law enforcement may be slow to act, and penalties may not be as severe.
- Victims are overlooked. When a person is deceased, it is unlikely anyone is still monitoring their credit score or financial activity, years after they have passed away. Very few are reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- A legacy tarnished.The events of a person's life should be celebrated by respecting the culmination of their achievements. Instead, a lifetime of hard work can easily be reduced to rubble if they aren't protected
- According toTime Magazine, 2.5 million people were the victim of "Ghosting" in 2012, and the AARP estimates that 800,000 people are targets of post-mortem identity theft each year.
- People who have been lost suddenly or due to illness such as Alzheimers likely did not have the ability to prepare their loved ones for this event. Much less the access to their online affairs.
- Social Security fraud is a way a person can use the identity of a dead person to work illegally under an assumed name by using their Social Security information.
- Fictitious life insurance policies can be used to fleece money from survivors by requiring fees before money is paid out. The money is never paid out.
- Information can be held hostage concerning a person's social media presence. Either through withholding sentimental information or even by blackmailing the family of the deceased for what it might consider scandalous information.
- The more information available to identity thieves, the more treacherous and harmful their scams become.
- Automated "bots" are often used in social media to glean information from other victims by association and connection. While it might seem like a real person making a friend request, it might just be a computer program using the likeness of a dead person to take your identity, too!
NOT JUST IDENTITY THEFT
As social media ages, so do all of the people who are active participants in it. In time, everyone who is on social media will pass away, but their lives will remain, digitally. Sometimes they are taken in old age or due to illness, and sometimes it happens suddenly. Either way, constant birthday reminders, ticklers from the social media engine, and other requests can be painful for those left behind.
A NEW SPIN ON AN OLD PROFESSION
Unfortunately, exploiting the deceased is a story as old as death itself. The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt built the pyramids and elaborate tomb systems to protect their dead. During the Victorian era, "Resurrectionists" were graverobbers who not only took possessions interred with the remains of the dead, but also made a profit by selling their bodies to medical schools. This often led to very elaborate ways to ensure the recently deceased stayed below ground. Modern sensibilities have interpreted this as superstition, that the dead would come back to haunt the living but, in reality, it was to make sure the mortal remains of loved ones weren't exploited by others.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Since the internet and social media is all just a collection of data, stored on servers and shot back and forth across the world at the speed of light through a vast network of communication arrays, you can't really build a pyramid over someone's virtual grave. Or can you? Digital Passing covers a large collection of known online accounts which should be terminated for 100% protection. It also gives you the option to make custom requests.
By taking control of the social media presence and online footprint of the deceased, you can protect their name and legacy. You can prevent other crimes from taking place due to their ID being compromised. Digital Passing allows you to take control of your loved one's affairs and cancel all social media accounts.
If you're concerned that your deceased loved one's identity is at risk, or is already being used by identity thieves, visit our website for more information on what you can do to stop this.
Get started now and protect them with our digital legacy services.