A Los Angeles man lost his battle with cancer, and within hours after his death, became the target of identity thieves.
His widow, Melinda Williams, told the NBC4 I-Team her story, saying she hopes to protect other families from the ordeal she’s endured.
Her husband, Jack Williams, died of lung cancer seven months ago. The couple had purchased prearranged cremation services from The Neptune Society, so when he succumbed to the disease at their home, she contacted the company to retrieve his body.
Williams recalls that two workers appeared at her door, and that one asked several questions about her husband’s identity. Since some of that information was already in the contract they’d signed with the Neptune Society, she says she quickly retrieved the document from her files, scanned it, and gave a copy to the worker.
"They had everything you need to steal an identity," Williams said. "I thought I was just helping expedite my husband being taken care of."
A week later, Williams said a Best Buy store credit card in her husband’s name arrived in the mail. Still grieving, she said she hardly gave the new card a thought and figured it was just a renewal.
"Then two weeks after that, I got a bill and I knew his identity had been stolen," Williams said.
Best Buy financial records indicate a new account was established for Jack Williams on Oct. 22, 2014 — less than 24 hours after he died.
Records show someone used the new account to buy three computers worth thousands of dollars that same day.
Williams believes it’s no coincidence that the purchases were made at a Best Buy store in Sherman Oaks, a four-minute drive from a Neptune Society office. She filed a police report, detailing her suspicion that one of the men who retrieved her husband’s body on the night he died might be involved in the crime.
She also contacted the Neptune Society.
"I filled out a form, but no one ever responded to me," Williams said.
The I-Team visited the Neptune Society’s Sherman Oaks office, but employees declined to speak on camera. Later, a company spokesperson told NBC4 they had "no record of being contacted previously and will cooperate with any police investigation."
The Neptune Society, a subsidiary of Texas-based Service Corporation International, has more than 45 offices nationwide.
So far there’s no proof to support Williams’ allegations.
The Neptune Society told the I-Team it has launched an internal investigation into the matter. A spokesperson added that the two men who retrieved Jack’s body were employees of an outside company hired by Neptune.
Los Angeles Department of Consumer Affairs Chief Investigator Rigoberto Reyes said identity theft of the deceased is not uncommon. He recommends that anyone with a terminal illness freeze his or her credit reports to guard against the crime.
Consumers in good health can also take this step to prevent identity theft; to open a new credit account, one would have to unfreeze the account.
"Generally, if your credit report is frozen, it’s going to be difficult for a thief to open an account," Reyes told the I-Team.
Williams said freezing credit reports was the last thing on her mind during her husband’s dying days.
Best Buy has cleared Williams’ name of any fraud, and forgiven the debt owed for the computer purchase, which means Williams is no longer considered a "victim."
In the eyes of the Los Angeles Police Department, Best Buy is the "victim" now, and unless the company pursues a prosecution, whoever stole Jack Williams’ identity got away with it.
"It’s really just a sad statement of where we are," Williams said. "It makes me mad and sad I guess."