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Scams, Frauds and Charlatans

Once a person has created an estate plan, the object is to preserve it.  Unfortunately, for many seniors in particular, this can be a daunting task as the number of scams that target older Americans is increasing.  Just because your funds and home are in a trust, that doesn’t mean a predator cannot target you as you are still in control of your holdings and are free to spend your money as you please.

It is estimated by the FBI that telemarketing fraud schemes alone bilk persons out of about $50 billion a year. A majority of the rip-off targets are over 50 years of age because older Americans usually have more money. Statistics are hard to come by since many seniors do not report being victimized because they are ashamed. Even agents who hold a power of attorney can be fleeced.

The prime weapons used by swindlers are the telephone and internet. Here are some prevalent scams to be aware of:

The IRS Demand. You get a phone call from someone who says he or she is with the Internal Revenue Service who informs you that you owe back taxes and that if you don’t pay immediately that you will be arrested, be subject to a lawsuit or have your driver’s license suspended.  They want money wired or put on a prepaid card. The IRS, however, does not call, text or e-mail individuals. The IRS will always send a letter if there is a problem relating to a taxpayer.

Medicare/Medical Deceit. You get a call from a supposed Medicare representative asking for personal information. These fraudsters then bill Medicare for fake services and pocket the funds. Another variation is getting a call saying your Medicare card has to be replaced and asking for personal information.

Online Drugs. The cost of drugs is sending more people to the internet to get cheaper medication  — everything from blood pressure pills to Botox to anti-aging creams. Some of these online ‘retailers’ are renegade and are not only offering counterfeit drugs but also products that may be toxic to the taker.

The Dubious Financial Advisor. Even a longtime financial advisor may be skimming money in ‘fees’ from your investment accounts without your knowledge.

The Grandchild Telephone Call. You get a call from someone who claims to be a grandchild or great grandchild. Once they get your trust, they ask you for money.

Internet Dating. It is not unusual for a lonely surviving spouse to try online dating. Predators abound on the internet in this sphere and will try to gain confidence and then ask for money and disappear.

Obituary and Funeral Fraud. Con artists scan the local newspaper obituaries and target a surviving spouse by claiming the deceased ordered something before they died and that the item has to be paid for immediately. Some funeral homes and crematoriums will also tack on charges in the hopes a grieving relative will not notice. Some cemeteries will also take advantage.

E-mail Solicitation. Some of the older e-mail scams are alive and well such as the e-mail saying you have won a lottery or are the recipient of someone’s generosity. The e-mail asks for personal information, a bank account number or other confidential information. Another variation is to get an e-mail from a friend or relative who has ‘run into trouble’ abroad on vacation and needs money wired.

Phising. You get an e-mail that appears to be from a legitimate organization asking for money. An example would be an e-mail letter from the ‘FBI’ saying you somehow violated copyright law by downloading protected material. To extricate yourself you have to pay a $500 fine by credit card. Sometimes these computer attacks will lock a computer and the only way to release the computer is paying the fine.

Phone Disaster Relief. After a horrific world event such as the Haiti earthquake or the Aurora Colorado mass murder, websites and phone calls are made from charlatans claiming to be from a relief organization or charity.

The list goes on and on and includes phony investment ploys, repair fraud, fake jury duty calls and others. Variations on these hoaxes seem to propagate each week, while even newer ones appear. If you sometimes wonder why and how people are targeted, you should be aware that it may be the result of being too generous with information, names and pictures  on social media sites such as Facebook. Your computer can also be hacked.

Recently, a couple in Louisville recently posted some furniture for sale on Craigslist. At the same time they posted on Facebook that they were going to a concert that night. When they came home after the event, their place had been burglarized.

As a general rule, if you receive an e-mail or telephone call asking for information or money, consult a trusted friend or advisor or your estate planning attorney to make sure the source is legitimate. A good rule of thumb in this day and age is to be wary and do as much due diligence as possible. Never respond to an unsolicited call or e-mail quickly and do not give out your social security number, date of birth, bank information or other confidential data. If you believe the organization is legitimate, call them back on their main number.

For more information on scams you can visit the Federal Bureau of Investigation website at www.fbi.gov.  Another excellent resource is the recently published book Future Crimes: Everything is Connected, Everyone is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It by Mark Goodman.