Cyber thieves are finding new ways to exploit unsuspecting victims, with one of the latest schemes involving the theft of identities from the deceased, a practice known as ghosting or ghost hacking. Incidents of ghost hacking have been on the rise, with criminals seizing the opportunity to take over social media and email accounts of the recently deceased individuals.
The process of ghost hacking typically begins with criminals scouring online obituaries, death notices, and memorials to identify individuals who have recently passed away. They then attempt to gain access to the deceased’s digital accounts, often exploiting the fact that there is little to no monitoring of these accounts in the wake of a person’s death. Once access is gained, the perpetrators have a range of options at their disposal.
Some of the more malicious hackers use the stolen accounts to spread spam, scams, and malware to the friends and family of the deceased. However, others have a more specific goal in mind – financial gain. By obtaining personal information about the deceased, they can potentially gain access to valuable financial accounts or use the stolen identity to take out credit cards and loans.
To combat ghost hacking, it is crucial for individuals and families to be proactive in securing their digital assets. This includes including digital assets in their estate planning, appointing someone to handle their digital accounts after their passing, and ensuring that strong passwords are used on all online accounts. Additionally, enabling two-factor authentication provides an added layer of security by requiring a second form of verification before granting access to an account.
Some providers of social media and online accounts offer specific tools for estate planning, such as Facebook’s memorial status for deceased users and Google’s feature to appoint someone to handle the account after the user’s passing. It is essential for individuals to take advantage of these features and to keep their digital estate plan up to date.
Beyond the threat of cyber theft, there are practical reasons for including digital assets in estate planning. Survivors often face significant challenges in managing and settling a loved one’s estate when they lack information about their digital accounts. Locating and accessing digital assets can be time-consuming, delaying essential tasks such as paying bills and causing unnecessary stress for the deceased individual’s family and friends.
By creating an inventory of all digital devices and assets and ensuring that designated individuals have access to this information, individuals can alleviate the burden on their survivors and safeguard their digital legacy. Taking these proactive steps can protect against ghost hacking and ensure a smooth transition of digital assets after one’s passing.