Social media, obituaries help thieves find potential victims - FOX Carolina 21

Social media, obituaries help thieves find potential victims

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An Upstate newspaper's obituaries section. (File/FOX Carolina) An Upstate newspaper's obituaries section. (File/FOX Carolina)
SPARTANBURG, SC (FOX Carolina) -

Robbers taking advantage of people consumed by grief is nothing new, but now, with the growing use of social media and the internet, people are finding more ways to steal from the dead.

Obituaries of loved ones are printed in newspapers and posted online on a daily basis, including 22-year-old William Smith, who lost is life in May after he was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer while securing his motorcycle to his truck in the emergency lane of Interstate 85.

Smith's obituary was published, but his family said they never could have predicted what would happen to his Spartanburg home.

"Somebody drove by, didn't see much activity in the home at all, and figured it'd probably be an easy target and they did," said Lt. Tony Ivey with the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office. "They broke in, took some items."

Deputies said the burglar rummaged through Smith's clothes, stealing several pairs of shoes, and tried to steal his car. Smith's family told FOX Carolina they think whoever broke in knew their son. Deputies said this was not the first crime of this kind.

"Don't get into a false sense of security," Ivey said. "When you read stories and we take reports of thieves breaking into houses of worship, churches and the like, they'll break into the house of a deceased person, too."

Authorities said they have cases of obituary thieves every few years in Spartanburg County. Funeral directors said this kind of danger has made even more families carefully guard information about their loved ones who have passed away.

John McAfee, a local funeral director, said people used to put flowers on the home where family was and where the deceased lived, but now, because of safety concerns, people are deciding against that.

It's not just the deceased thieves are targeting. In the past month, burglars were charged with robbing mourners' homes during a funeral in Arkansas, Minnesota, Massachusetts and West Virginia.

In some of the cases, authorities said they believe the thieves uncovered who was close to the deceased person through social media.

Law enforcement and funeral directors said there is something people can do to protect themselves such as not publishing addresses or even certain funeral information in obituaries, especially not on social media.

"Have someone stay at the home," Ivey said. "I know a lot of people want to go to the funeral and pay their last respects. But I'm sure you can find someone, family or a neighbor that lives close by, that would be happy to stay at the house, keep an eye on things."

While Smith's home was not burglarized during his funeral, it sat vacant after his death.

Authorities suggest alerting law enforcement and trusted neighbors about the vacant home so they can keep on eye on the property.

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