How to close vulnerable online accounts after death of a relative: Internet Scambusters #690
Whatever your views on life after death, did you know that an individual's "existence" usually continues online after they die?
And that could pose real dangers in the form of fraudulent use of accounts and even identity theft.
Deleting these accounts is not always straightforward but we'll explain how to do it with the most popular online service providers in this week's issue.
Let's get started...
Dangers of Digital Life After Death
Although death isn't something most of us want to think or talk about, especially when it involves those near and dear to us, the simple fact is that after death, an individual's virtual life goes on. It doesn't automatically end.
This has serious implications for those of us left behind to pick up the pieces. For instance, all the data, images, accounts and other information that remain online about a person can be used for fraud, identity theft, Social Security and other scams.
Or they may have left behind regularly deductible payments associated with them that will continue for as long as the accounts remain active.
So, it's crucial to act swiftly to delete or take control of these accounts and their data as swiftly as possible after a loss.
But where do you start?
First, let's backtrack to the here and now.
Every one of us can make the whole task of closing or deleting accounts easier for others by creating a record of all our online activities.
Obviously, this has to be a secure record, either encrypted on a PC or printed and stored safely, to which only people you trust have access. It should include account details, user names, passwords, website addresses and details of any recurring payments.
Second, you should also research with each service provider that you use what to do with your accounts in the event of your death and include that in the record.
This means checking with each service as to their arrangements for closing or otherwise dealing with online information for a deceased person.
You'll find some useful information to help you with this task below.
Third, you should also encourage other friends and family to create the same kind of record. That might save you or others precious time and eliminate the risk of fraud when the time arrives.
By the way, don't attach this document to a will, which becomes a public document after death. But you may want to name a person in your will -- someone referred to as a "digital executor" -- who will be responsible for making decisions and clearing up any issues associated with your online activities.
We must also point out that the terms and conditions of some online service providers may say that you mustn't share account details with others.
We at Scambusters cannot and do not provide legal advice on how to deal with this requirement. If this is a concern for you, speak to an attorney.
If this sort of forward planning isn't in place when you face the tasks of a digital executor -- even if you haven't been formally named as one -- you'll still need to act as swiftly as possible.
Assuming you don't have the relevant sign-on information or, for legal reasons just mentioned, don't wish to access accounts without the provider's permission, here are some steps you can take.
Accessing and Deleting Email Accounts
All the big email service providers have set procedures for this that can be fairly complex.
For example, they will want proof of your identity, relationship with the deceased, a copy of the relevant death certificate and information from a sample email sent to you by the deceased person when they were alive.
You can find a fairly comprehensive list of requirements for all the big email services in this article: What Happens To My Email Accounts When I Die?
(Note that this is an article provided by a private digital archiving company but it's free to access. We can't vouch for its accuracy).
Deleting Social Media Accounts
Facebook: You have two options -- deleting the account entirely or preserving it, or what FB calls "memorializing" it. In either case, you need proof of death and then you must complete the relevant form.
Start here: https://www.facebook.com/help/150486848354038
Twitter: You can delete an account entirely or just have certain imagery removed by submitting a request to Twitter's Trust and Safety Department. Normally, you must be a family member.
Here's the initial link: https://support.twitter.com/articles/87894?lang=en
LinkedIn: The company has a broader policy allowing former acquaintances and business associates as well as family to notify of deaths for account deletion.
But because of this, the security requirements are onerous including a requirement for submission of a published obituary and proof of your knowledge of the person.
Here's the starting point: https://help.linkedin.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/2842/~/deceased-linkedin-member---removing-profile
Other accounts: Do an online search inserting the name of the relevant social network. For example: "Delete Myspace account after death."
Deleting Other Accounts
You can use the same approach just mentioned to find out how to delete other accounts.
In some cases, service providers automatically delete accounts if they are not used within a specific timeframe.
For example, the cloud storage service Dropbox deletes inactive accounts after 90 days, although they will usually send out an email warning before doing so.
It's also worth noting, going back to the subject of advance preparation, that several Internet services allow active users to nominate a person to whom access and control of accounts can be transferred on death.
Google, for example, does this through its Inactive Account Manager: Plan your digital afterlife with Inactive Account Manager.
Yes, this whole subject is a gloomy one, but by taking action now, you can make this task easier for those who have to deal with your after-death affairs.
Alert of the week
If you stayed in a Hyatt Hotel or dined at one of its restaurants between July and December last year, your personal details may have been stolen via malware the firm discovered on computer systems at 250 of its locations.
The company says it is contacting guests affected but you can find out more (including a link to affected hotels) at Protecting Customer Information.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!