What We’ve Observed:
The elderly have long been a target for clever con artists seeking to make an easy buck through illicit means. Some scams, like the lost Prince of Nigeria email, have been around for decades, but other, more convincing scams have just begun to pop up in 2014. I have noticed three in particular that senior citizens need to be aware of due to their seemingly official nature and rapid expansion into Michigan and other Midwestern states.
The first is a scam targeted at people who have recently purchased property, or transferred property into a living trust for estate planning purposes. No matter how well the sale was structured, or how artfully the trust was prepared, the evidence of the transfer is a public record. This means that a scam company, often identifying themselves as “Record Transfer Services,” “Property Transfer Services,” “Record Retrieval Department,” or “National Deed Services” can gain access to the record of the sale. That company will then mail a notice to the parties of the sale requesting that a party pay them anywhere from $50 to $200 for records of the sale/copies of their deed. Once an individual makes that payment, the scam company then neglects to send the requested information and frequently seeks to compromise the individual’s bank account.
A second, related scam revolves around the fact that property tax records are public information as well. A company, named something similar to “Property Tax Assessor Records Corp.” will write or call an individual and tell them that they could save money on their property taxes by paying this company an upfront fee. The contact will emphasize that immediate action is required. Of course, once payment is received, no tax benefit will be conferred and, again, one’s bank account information may be compromised. Only an attorney well versed in the tax ramifications of property transfers should be trusted when it comes to the tax consequences of owning property.
Lastly, there’s a scam where a company will call or mail a senior citizen telling them they have received a large settlement as part of a lawsuit. In order to access that settlement they will have to pay a fee ranging between $50 and $500. The mailing will often include a “check” for the amount of the settlement that can be cashed once the fee is received by the scam company. With this scam, the check will almost always be from a different company than the company mailing the letter. This will not be a valid check, which should set off red flags in the mind of the recipient. Cashing the check will subject the victim to a returned check fee, and the scamming company will be long gone with the money that the elderly person already provided to them.
What We Recommend:
1. Whenever you purchase or transfer property, it is always wise to consult with an expert Real Estate/Estate Planning attorney. That attorney can and will explain to you the scams that are out there so you can recognize when people attempt to scan you and stop the problem before it happens.
2. If you are a senior citizen and you receive an unsolicited letter promising a financial benefit that requires prepayment, contact an experienced elder law specialist and ask her to review the mailing and provide you with an opinion on its legitimacy.
3. Sign up for the Federal do-not-call list at www.donnotcall.gov. If you need help navigating the site or have any questions about the do-not-call registry contact an experienced elder law attorney.