Ghost-hacking: How to protect yourself from scams from beyond the grave of those you knew

Ghost-hacking: How to protect yourself from scams from beyond the grave of those you knew

Scammers are hacking the dead and it's costing the living

by Kunal Kohli

Online, the dead live on as digital ghosts. You may have encountered some of them, perhaps without even knowing it. As more and more people pass away, their online profiles will soon outnumber the living ones, especially on Facebook. This creates a lucrative opportunity for scammers and hackers who prey on the deceased and their friends and family.



What is ghost-hacking or ghosting?

They’re not trying to break into your account. They’re using your dead relative or friend’s account instead. It’s a scam called ghosting. With cybercrimes already costing internet users $10.2 billion and more than 1.4 million cases of identity fraud reported so far this year, online scams are becoming more prevalent dangers in our lives. 



Why do scammers use your deceased loved one’s account?

Losing a loved one is hard enough, but it can be even harder when their online identity is compromised by hackers. Hackers may try to access your relative’s Facebook account to send spam, scam, or malicious messages to their friends and family.

They may also try to steal their personal or financial information or use their account for other nefarious purposes. Cyber security solutions company Check Point reported a 38 percent increase in global cyberattacks just last year.




How to secure your deceased relative’s Facebook account

Step 1: Memorialize a deceased loved one’s account

Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself. Facebook has a feature that allows you to memorialize your deceased loved one’s profile.

  • Go to the Facebook website and log in
  • Click on your profile photo on the top right of your screen (on desktop) or on bottom right (on your mobile device) and select “help & support” in the drop-down menu (on desktop) or lower on the page (on mobile)
  • Click on Help Center
  • In the help center, use the search bar to search memorialize request
  • Select the option that helps you best

This Facebook form lets you memorialize a loved one’s page. All you need to do is provide some basic information and documentation.


Step 2: Request Facebook delete your relative’s account after they pass away

If you don’t want your relative’s Facebook account to remain online after their death, you can request that Facebook delete the account permanently. This will remove the profile, photos, posts, comments, and messages from Facebook.

To do this, you need proof of death, such as a death certificate, obituary, or memorial card. You also need proof of authority, such as a power of attorney, birth certificate, or will. You can submit your request through this link. Facebook will review your request and delete your relative’s account if it meets their criteria. This may take some time, so please be patient.

Deleting your relative’s account is a way to protect their privacy and prevent hackers from accessing their account. However, it also means that you and their friends won’t be able to see their memories or posts on Facebook. You should consider this option carefully before making a decision.


Step 3: Use strong and unique passwords

Create strong passwords for your accounts and devices and avoid using the same password for multiple online accounts. This will prevent hackers from accessing your personal information and assets, even if they manage to breach one of your accounts.

Consider using a password manager to securely store and generate complex passwords. It will help you to create unique and difficult-to-crack passwords that a hacker could never guess.

Second, it also keeps track of all your passwords in one place and fills passwords in for you when you’re logging into an account so that you never have to remember them yourself. The fewer passwords you remember, the less likely you will be to reuse them for your accounts.

Additionally, a password manager can help you to update your passwords regularly and delete any accounts that you no longer use. This will reduce the risk of your passwords being compromised by hackers or scammers who may try to impersonate you or your deceased relatives.

One of the best password managers out there is 1Password. With no known security breaches or vulnerabilities, 1Password is a solid option as a paid password manager. It utilizes a well-designed interface, which features core components that are expected from premium, paid password managers. At the time of publishing, it starts at $2.99 a month, billed annually, for a total of $35.88/year, and you can save more with a family option which includes 5 family members for $60/year.

Get more details about my best expert-reviewed Password Managers of 2023 here.


Step 4: Use 2-factor authentication

Another way to protect your relative’s Facebook account from hackers is to enable 2-factor authentication (2FA) on their account. 2FA is a security feature that requires you to enter a password and a code sent to your phone or email every time you log in. This way, even if a hacker gets your relative’s password, they won’t be able to log in without the second factor. 2FA can make it harder for hackers to get into your deceased relative’s account.



Step 5: Report any suspicious activity to Facebook

One of the most important steps you can take to protect your relative from scams from beyond the grave is to report any suspicious activity on their Facebook account as soon as possible. Suspicious activity may include messages, posts, comments, or friend requests that seem out of character, inappropriate, or malicious. These may be signs that your relative’s account has been hacked, compromised, or impersonated by someone who wants to exploit their identity or reputation.

Reporting suspicious activity to Facebook will help them investigate the issue and take appropriate actions, such as locking, restoring, or deleting the account. You can report suspicious activity on Facebook through this link.  By reporting suspicious activity to Facebook, you can prevent further harm to your relative’s friends and family. You can also honor your relative’s memory and protect their online legacy from being tarnished or misused by scammers.


Step 6: Use antivirus protection

An effective antivirus software is a must-have to protect against scammers and hackers who prey on the deceased and their friends and family.The best way to protect yourself from clicking on any malicious links on Facebook, fake websites, in phishing emails and text messages is to have antivirus protection installed and actively running on all your devices.  It’s the best to help stop and alert you of any malware in your system and ultimately protect you from being hacked.

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I’ve been scammed! What to do next?

Below are some next steps if you find you or your loved one is a victim of identity theft.

1) If you can regain control of your accounts, change your passwords and inform the account provider

2) Look through bank statements and checking account transactions to see where outlier activity started

3) Use an Identity Theft protection service: Identity Theft companies, like my #1 pick, Identity Guard can monitor personal information like your Social Security Number (SSN), phone number and email address and alert you if it is being sold on the dark web or being used to open an account.  They can also assist you in freezing your bank and credit card accounts to prevent further unauthorized use by criminals.  Some of the best parts of using an identity theft protection service like my #1 pick include identity theft insurance to cover losses and legal fees, and a white glove fraud resolution team where a US-based case manager helps you recover any losses. 

See my review for Best identity theft protection services 2023 here.

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4) Report any breaches to official government agencies like the Federal Communications Commission

5) You may wish to get the professional advice of a lawyer

    • before speaking to law enforcement, especially when you are dealing with criminal identity theft
    • if being a victim of criminal identity theft leaves you unable to secure employment or housing

6) Alert all three major credit bureaus and possibly place a fraud alert on your credit report

7) Run your own background check or request a copy of one if that is how you discovered your information has been used by a criminal.

If you are a victim of identity theft, the most important thing to do is to take immediate action to mitigate the damage and prevent further harm

Kurt’s key takeaways

Losing a loved one is hard enough.  Making sure they’re protected digitally once they’re no longer here is probably the last thing you want to think about. That’s why it’s important to make sure you take the proper steps to protect your profiles in advance. Use strong passwords, set up two-factor authentication, and designate someone to make sure your accounts are properly memorialized or deleted.

How do you protect yourself on social media? Do you use a password manager or two-factor authentication? Are there other methods you use to ensure your security? Let us know in the comments below.



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