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Sadly, my wife passed away in April. Since then, I have made several requests to have her Facebook account turned into a memorial page. I would prefer this to deleting her account as it will provide a place for people to leave messages and memories – and especially for my sons, aged nine and 13.

Whenever I fill out the Facebook form, it advises me that someone will be in touch with me soon, but I have never heard anything from them. I can’t see anywhere where I can get any help from Facebook with this problem.

I have tried contacting Facebook via their feedback form, and on Twitter. Do you know of any way I can get Facebook to respond to my request? Simon

Perhaps having their lack-of-service highlighted by the Guardian will prompt somebody at Facebook to respond, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Either way, you’re right: there is no way for the average user – or even the average journalist – to talk to Facebook. The only thing you can do is repeat the process, as you have done, until it eventually gets through the system.

Web-based companies with more than a billion users, such as Facebook and Google, rely on machines, and sometimes on cheap labour in places like the Philippines, as described in a recent article in Wired. Facebook has a “team that reviews memorialisation requests,” so I would assume this is similarly outsourced.

Facebook suggests that you provide “a link to an obituary or other documentation about the death”. The form says this is optional but I would strongly recommend providing convincing evidence. If you don’t, Facebook will tend to err on the side of caution, because of the risk that a request could be malign, a juvenile prank or simply mistaken.

Dealing with requests may be a significant problem for Facebook, and one that will grow rapidly as more older users sign up. Based on calculations by Nathan Lustig of Entrustet (taken over by SecureSafe), more than 3 million Facebook users will die this year, which is about 60,000 a week. If it really takes Facebook more than six months to “memorialise” one account, then its process is not up to the task.

If no one contacts Facebook, or if Facebook fails to respond, the account will remain active indefinitely. The main risk is that it might be hacked and used to send spam, or worse.

Delete or memorialise

There are two options: you can get Facebook to delete your late wife’s account or to memorialise it.

If you choose to delete the account, then all the comments, photos etc will also be deleted, unless you take legal steps to preserve them. This is a privacy issue. Facebook says: “The application to obtain account content is a lengthy process and will require you to obtain a court order.”

If you choose memorialisation, Facebook changes a number of things:

• No one is allowed to log in to the account

• You can’t change, add to or delete existing content, which includes adding or removing friends

• Automated activities, such as daily quotes or horoscopes, are stopped

• Memorialised accounts don’t appear in “public spaces” such as birthday reminders, People You May Know, or searches

• Memorialised accounts can only be accessed by the user’s confirmed friends

However, the original content stays in place. Also, Facebook adds, “depending on the privacy settings of the deceased person’s account, friends can share memories on the memorialised Timeline”.

If you have access to your late wife’s account, you could hide or remove some content, including any inappropriate posts that might have appeared on her wall. But this is risky. First, Facebook says: “it is always a violation of our policies to log into another person’s account”. Second, Facebook will not delete active accounts. Any account activity after the reported date of death will obviously look suspicious.

Although you could set up a separate memorial page, you would have to spend time managing it. Memorialisation removes that burden. However, to be effective, the memorialisation process has to be quick. In that context, a six-month wait looks unacceptable.

Thinking ahead

It’s presumably not just Facebook: most people have several personal accounts of various sorts, and some people have dozens. The most common ones are email services such as Gmail and Hotmail/Outlook, messaging services such as WhatsApp and Skype, and shopping services such as Amazon and eBay. There are many others, including Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, Pinterest, Snapchat, and Dropbox. PCs and smartphones may also be protected with passwords.

It could take a lot of time to deal with all of these accounts, especially as most of them don’t seem to have a process like Facebook’s.

If you want your spouse or other family members to deal with your digital stuff after you’ve gone, it’s a good idea to make a list of the log-on names, passwords, and associated email addresses. You could put the details in a letter, but it would be better to use an encrypted file and leave the password with someone you trust. Conversely, there may be sites and/or services that you don’t want family members to access. In which case, don’t store the details in an accessible web browser, but use a secure password manager instead.

There are a number of online companies that will store this kind of information. These include Legacy Locker/Password Box, Securesafe’s Data Inheritance, Asset Lock, and Cirrus Legacy, but I’m not sure they are necessary. Otherwise, a blog post by US-based Anderson Elder Law, Don’t Forget to Include Your Digital Assets in Your Estate Planning, provides some useful advice.

You can leave instructions with an executor, but don’t put password details in a traditional British will. When a will goes to probate, it becomes a public record.

Not everyone using online dating sites is looking for love. Scammers create fake online profiles using photos of other people — even stolen pictures of real military personnel. They profess their love quickly. And they tug at your heartstrings with made-up stories about how they need money — for emergencies, hospital bills, or travel. Why all of the tricks? They’re looking to steal your money.

As if all that isn’t bad enough, romance scammers are now involving their victims in online bank fraud. Here’s how it works: The scammers set up dating profiles to meet potential victims. After they form a “relationship,” they come up with reasons to ask their love interest to set up a new bank account. The scammers transfer stolen money into the new account, and then tell their victims to wire the money out of the country. Victims think they’re just helping out their soulmate, never realizing they’re aiding and abetting a crime.  

Here are some warning signs that an online love interest might be a fake. They ask you to:

  • chat off of the dating site immediately, using personal email, text, or phone
  • wire money using Western Union or Money Gram
  • set up a new bank account

Did you know you can do an image search of your love interest’s photo in your favorite search engine? If you do an image search and the person’s photo appears under several different names, you’re probably dealing with a scammer. And if the person’s online profile disappears a few days after they meet you, that’s another tip-off.

Here’s the real deal: Don’t send money to someone you met online — for any reason. If your online sweetheart asks for money, you can expect it’s a scam.

Unfortunately, online dating scams are all too common. There may be tens of thousands of victims, and only a small fraction report it to the FTC. If this happens to you, please report it at ftc.gov/complaint — click on Scams and Rip-Offs, then select Romance Scams.

Tagged with: bank account, fraud, military, money transfer, online dating, scam