(TNS) — About five years ago, Santa Fe resident Betsy Ehrenberg got a Facebook message inviting her to send a “happy birthday” wish to her deceased friend Carol.
“I wondered why her Facebook page had not been taken down, and who is responsible for doing that,” Ehrenberg said. “I called Facebook and they took it down. But then I noticed her Linked-in page was still up too.”
That got Ehrenberg – a serial entrepreneur who successfully launched, ran and sold two software companies in the Silicon Valley – to start investigating the management of a person’s electronic records once they pass away. Now, five years later, Ehrenberg has built a new software-as-a-service company, Legacy Concierge LLC, to provide online “resolution services” for lawyers, fiduciaries, individuals and others to automatically erase a deceased person’s electronic footprint.
The cloud-based service allows people to build an “electronic vault” that contains all their online records held by financial institutions, brokerage houses, credit unions, credit reporting companies, governments agencies, insurance firms and even shopping sites, social media and email services. That information remains locked in the vault until the individual passes away.
At that point, the person’s successor or fiduciary notifies the company about the death, and Legacy Concierge automatically begins the notification process to inform all of the institutions that hold electronic records to erase them.
Most people have more than 160 places in the cloud where their electronic footprint resides when they die, Ehrenberg said.
“Just on a cell phone, all those apps represent a person’s name sitting on a computer somewhere,” Ehrenberg said. “The person’s heirs, beneficiaries or loved ones are grieving and most don’t even think about the problem until they remember that Uncle Joe had 500,000 miles on Southwest, and they wonder who got them. If their uncle didn’t plan for management of his digital assets, probably nobody got them.”
Those unmanaged assets can cause a lot of heartaches and problems for the people left behind.
One thing is the pain of constant reminders, be it through snail mail or online messages about everything from a magazine subscription that a lost relative or friend maintained to a request for the deceased person to donate to a charitable institution they regularly contributed to.
“For many, it’s a significant emotional impact to be constantly reminded that Aunt Pat or Uncle Chris died,” Ehrenberg said.
But the problem is much more insidious when it comes to financial assets and online identities.
“The problem is fraudsters are constantly watching to steal the identities of the deceased,” Ehrenberg said. “They read the obituaries or go to social media to find the identity of people who pass away and then start impersonating them.”
It’s the modern, 21st century version of grave robbing, allowing hackers to steel millions, especially from wealthy people.
“Identity thieves who target the deceased are cunning and relentless, and often use obituaries to obtain social security numbers, previous addresses, birthdays, employment histories, and other information that they then use to drain the deceased’s current accounts, file false tax returns, open new credit accounts, and accrue tremendous debt,” Ehrenberg said.
An estimated $58 billion in assets go unclaimed annually because successors don’t know how to locate digital assets and electronic records of the deceased, Ehrenberg said. And more than 13 percent of all deaths result in identity theft.
The Federal Trade Commission received more than 320,000 reports about identity theft of decreased people in 2017.
In today’s hyperconnected world, it’s a complex problem that keeps getting worse as online services and activities grow.
“It’s open-ended and evolving,” Ehrenberg said. “Today we have crypto currency and PayPal accounts, things we didn’t have just eight or 10 years ago. There’s airline miles, voter registration, even Netflix subscriptions that continue to pull out monthly fees from credit cards of the deceased.”
It can be a tedious, time-consuming process to erase all those electronic records, usually taking up to 120 hours to fully eliminate an online footprint, Ehrenberg said. Most people are grieving and don’t want to do it. And lawyers who charge $300 to $360 an hour are reluctant to shoulder those tasks, because the bills add up fast and they have to recover those costs.
Legacy Concierge is available to anyone who wants to access the service, but the company is particularly marketing to lawyers, trust companies and other professionals who manage the estates of deceased people.
The service covers multiple categories of electronic records and assets, including email, financial and government documents, licenses, insurance, shopping memberships and social media. Creating and maintaining an electronic vault costs $250 per year, with a maximum payout of $750 over three years. Death notification costs differ depending on the category addressed, such as $99 to just eliminate social media, or $250 for each insurance policy erased.
Ehrenberg and a team of six contractors built the software system and then beta tested it from April 2018 to July 2019, when the service went live.
“During the beta period, we closed over 100 electronic accounts for law firms,” Ehrenberg said. “To date, we’ve sold about 25 subscriptions to the service.”
Ehrenberg spoke publicly for the first time abut Legacy Concierge as a participant in the ABQid business accelerator’s Balloon Fiesta Pitch competition on Oct. 3, where the company won the event’s $1,500 second-place prize.
Ehrenberg has invested about $400,000 to build and launch the system. The company is now raising a $4 million, series A round of investment to continue developing the service while launching a robust sales and marketing campaign.
©2019 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.