Tech and Science

Watch out for the new “ghost hackers”

Imagine if this had happened to you. Your spouse has passed away and a few weeks after the funeral you receive a message saying, “Hello, I hope you have a nice day.” Other friends report receiving similar messages from your spouse. Some news offers great returns on crypto investments.

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“Ghost hackers” have taken over your spouse’s account. It’s a sick new scam. With account holders dead and families focused on their grief, the hack is more likely to go unnoticed. It’s terrible and I want to make sure this doesn’t happen to you or someone you love.

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Ghost hackers monitor obituaries and death notices for potential targets. Then they use their arsenal (hacking weak passwords, guessing security questions, and accessing previously leaked credentials) to break in. Hackers often break into bank and retirement accounts, making it easy to steal directly from passers-by.

The best attack is good defense

I know firsthand that there are a lot of administrative tasks to take care of when a close family member dies – from canceling a cell phone contract to executing a will. This list must now include remembering or deleting their social media accounts.

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Fortunately, social networks have processes in place. For Facebookquestions Facebook remembers the account. You need a link to an obituary. You can also request this Profile can be removed. Instagram has similar steps to Facebook, and the same for for X.

Take the time to protect yourself now

Facebook allows you to designate an old contact to manage your account in the event of your death. You can’t log in, read your messages, or delete friends.

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  • On mobile devices, select that three line symbol bottom right. Scroll and tap Settings and privacy > Settings. Under Account Center, tap Personal Data > Personal Data > Account ownership and control > Memory.
  • Click your name to select your old contact (and notify your contact that they are now in this role). You can also decide if you would prefer to have your account deleted after you pass.

Apple’s Legacy Contact is a secure way to give someone access to the data stored in your Apple account after your death. You can add more than one legacy contact and everyone can access the account to make decisions. The person must be at least 13 years old.

Here’s how to set it up on your iPhone:

  • Open Settings and tap your Surname.
  • Go to Registration and security > Legacy Contact.
  • Beat Add legacy contact. You may need to use Face ID, Touch ID, or your passcode to authenticate.
  • You can select a group member if you belong to a Family Sharing group. Or you can type Choose someone else to add someone from your contacts.
  • Select the person from your contacts. Beat Keep going.
  • You will be asked how you would like to share your access key. Choose Print access key or Send access key.
  • If you choose to send the key digitally, Apple will create a message informing your contact that you have added them as your old contact. Beat Send.
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Finally, customize your Google account. You probably have a few things you’d rather keep private in your search, playback, and location history. By default, Google automatically deletes account records after 18 months. If you want to shorten this window, you can do it in a few steps.

  • Go to your Google Activity controls and log in with your Google account.
  • Under Web and app activityyou’ll see Automatically delete. Make sure this is rotated At.
  • Click the arrow to select your preferred time frame: 3 months, 18 months or 36 months.

You really need a digital estate plan

It’s not a legal document, but rather an overview of all your accounts, passwords and online assets with instructions on how to find them. My mom made one before she passed away and I can’t tell you how much time and stress it saved me during an incredibly emotional time.

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Your list can be as formal or informal as you like. It could be an Excel spreadsheet or a Word document that contains websites, login details, and anything else you want to leave behind. If you go this route, protect the file with a password and leave the password in your will.

If you’re comfortable with this, I highly recommend doing this in a password manager. Most have the option to set up a contact who, if passed, can access your login information. Use one Password notebook if you are more comfortable with pen and paper.

Here’s a checklist to get you started:

  • Email, social media, financial and cloud storage accounts.
  • Online shopping credentials.
  • Streaming services and other recurring fees.
  • Loyalty programs, including travel rewards.
  • Domain names and website hosting.

I know it’s not fun to think about, but you will help your loved ones immensely if you do it.

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