You have probably seen the “trailers” for or may have seen the sci-fi thriller, Transcendence but that’s not the subject of this item. No, this is about the reality of an individual’s virtual presence on the Internet—rewards accounts, shopping accounts, health records, social accounts, etc.—all of the digital stuff, so to speak on which a decedent’s name may appear. So what happens to this digital stuff when you die?
A scary scenario—do you remember the Target data theft? Who has the data? It is likely that a lot of people whose information was illegally acquired may die in the next several years. A computer security expert recently commented that there are malevolent individuals in places far away sitting at computers in order to match death notices with the stolen Target data. They can use the matched info to create a continuing identity before anyone may notice or with a “new” pseudo-identity, the perpetrators may be able to hide their activity for long enough that significant harm may be inflicted on others in the name of the decedent. While the consequences of the fraud may be avoided by the estate, it may take considerable time to recover from and undo the damage.
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent some of this from happening but it is a bit of a minefield—access may be limited by the Terms of Service Agreement (TOSA) and by federal laws, such as The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Stored Communications Act. Those are actually secondary impediments. The first impediment to overcome is to identify the decedent’s continuing presence. Some of that may be found in paper records or perhaps on the decedent’s computer, smart phone or tablet. It will likely be a very tedious process to attempt to find the websites on which the decedent lives on.
As with most problems, solutions are available. One in particular is a service that will search about 70 websites for accounts in the name of the decedent and provide a report to the representatives of the decedent’s estate. The search is focused on websites for hotels, airlines, social, photo, travel, e-mail, rental cars and shopping. The report includes information on how to follow-up in order to recover any value and to terminate the decedent’s presence: contact information, required documentation, options, and account cancellation.
Why bother? Airline miles, credit card points/cash back balances, other types of rewards and family photos, may be recovered for or transferred to beneficiaries and family members. The value may not be significant but the greatest value is likely the minimization of the risk from the failure to eliminate the decedent’s virtual presence.
Reminder: In a prior alert, we covered the need to provide for family or friends to have access to computers, smartphones, tablets and on-line accounts, e.g., Log-in IDs and Passwords. There is no perfect plan—if you write down this information it may be lost, fall into the wrong hands or quickly become less than current due to changes; storing it on your computer exposes it to hacking or inaccessibility if no one knows your access codes for your computer, smartphone or tablet. Making sure that trusted persons or family members have this information will be very helpful in providing access to this important information.