These scams prey on families who have lost loved ones, or who have not been in touch with a loved one for some time. The scammer will obtain obituary information from city morgues, news of a death where the victim has not yet been identified, and/or personal information about a missing person. The scammer will contact victims saying that their loved one has passed away, and the victim is required to pay final medical costs or fees for the release of the body. The scammer may also say that the victim, as the next of kin, is liable for debts incurred by the deceased. This is often a highly personalized scam, but using news of an unidentified victim and a mass e-mail, the scammer can often lure victims who have loved ones in the same city whom the victim cannot get in touch with. The scam’s operation is more of an extortion, however the “payoff” could be considered to be the remains of the deceased, which the scammer like in most advance fee scams does not have possession of (and may not even exist in some cases; the presumed deceased could be alive and well), and the groups that perpetrate these scams are alleged to be the same groups that perpetrate other advance fee frauds. This scam has also been attempted on families of soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan by scammers claiming to be agents of the United States Army.
Source : wikipedia