Downs Law Firm, P.C.
Downs Law Firm, P.C.
Take, for example, the sad and sordid tax case of Mary Ellen Cranmer Nice vs. United States of America, which would not have existed if an attentive financial advisor hadn’t noticed the large IRA distributions that were allegedly stolen right from under a matriarch’s nose.
The concept of financial scams isn’t a new one. Unfortunately, seniors tend to be particularly prone to them in general. Introduce a pandemic, and you have the makings for financial ruin among our country’s most vulnerable.
While residents in Cecil County and throughout the state are taking precautions to safeguard themselves against COVID-19, some people are stealing or attempting to steal money through coronavirus-based scams, according to the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Complaints about stolen homes have shot up from 44 in 2013 to 136 in 2018, according to the city Department of Records. The department is making changes to its security system in the aftermath of the Inquirer stories, but it declined to detail the upgrades, fearing it would tip off scammers.
Scammers work to create weaknesses, including fear. Scammers have increased targeting people who receive Social Security, to the extent that complaints have increased 1,000% over the past year, according to Fox 6 Now in “‘The people who are calling have some pretty good tricks up their sleeve:’ Social security scam calls spiking.” Ketti Bingen received a phone call telling her that someone had found a car by the side of the road somewhere in Texas that was registered in her name. They told her there was blood on the car, and when they went to the address the car was registered to, they found a massive number of illegal drugs. The caller had the last four digits of her Social Security number. They wanted her to divulge her name and date of birth. The caller advised her to file for a new Social Security number. Lucky for her, she knew enough to hang up. Not all Americans are that smart. In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission heard from 3,200 people who were taken hook, line, and sinker–to the tune of $210,000 each in this scam. In 2018, 35,000 people were fooled. The total loss: $10 million. The Wisconsin Consumer Protection agency and agencies across the country repeat the message: the Social Security Administration does not call and demand money from people. It never makes threats, warns of an impending arrest or demands that people send gift cards. If the Social Security Administration wants to reach out to people, they do so by mail. Another reason people fall prey to these phone scams is that the caller IDs on their phones appear to be coming from the government agencies. However, that’s also a scam. It is now relatively easy to “spoof” a phone number, or make it appear that the number the scammer is calling from has a different caller ID number. If you are worried about someone calling your home claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, you can call the Social Security Administration’s dedicated fraud bureau. Reference: Fox 6 Now (Jan. 27, 2019)“‘The people who are calling have some pretty good tricks up their sleeve:’ Social security scam calls spiking”
No matter how smart you are, you can still become a victim of elder abuse as you age. Who you trust to help you can have devastating consequences if you don’t choose wisely. Mary Weiss has endured the violent death of her son, four strokes and a heart attack. Now she is facing the loss of her home and retirement savings, because of suspected financial elder abuse, according to Fox 9 in “Woman, who helped change research protocols at U of M, allegedly loses savings to caregiver.” The person she depended on throughout it all, is the one who is suspected of taking advantage of her trusting nature. She says she was financially ruined and her nest egg of $150,000 is gone. Debt from credit cards and loans taken out in her name without her consent is mounting. Weiss gained international attention for her battle with the University of Minnesota researchers who ran a research study of a psychiatric drug. Her son took his own life, while enrolled in the study. Because of her fight, the University made a number of changes to its research programs. The man she believes has ripped her off stood by her during that battle, speaking to reporters on her behalf. However, now he has been charged with one count of theft by swindle by the Washington County Attorney, following an investigation by the Cottage Grove Police Department. Howard lived with Weiss, although they were not romantically involved, for 10 years and had become her caregiver. She had suffered a series of strokes and gave him power of attorney over her financial matters. Weiss knew that Howard had a record, including a theft by swindle conviction, but she never thought he would do something bad to her. It was Weiss’ niece who discovered the problem this past spring, when she was going through a year’s worth of bank statements. ATM withdrawals, lottery ticket purchases, loans and credit cards were all done in her name. Washington County Human Services did a separate investigation and notified Weiss that an allegation of financial exploitation had been substantiated. Howard denies taking anything without Weiss’ consent. Weiss is currently living in a nursing home and is recovering from a fall. She said that she would like to return to her townhome but is not sure she will be able to afford to do that. She wants others to understand that this can happen to anyone, even with full control of their senses and no dementia. Reference: Fox 9 (Oct. 22, 2018) “Woman, who helped change research protocols at U of M, allegedly loses savings to caregiver”
Since Social Security is a target, it is best to be prepared and to be protected. Unfortunately scammers are relentless and merciless. Theft from Social Security is increasing. One way to help prevent it, is to create your account now, according to Next Avenue in “Protect Yourself Against Social Security Identity Theft.” Opening your account can be considered as a preemptive strike against theft. The advice is relative, because everyone should go to the Social Security website and create an account, if they haven’t already. It’s a gateway to many online services from the Social Security Administration. If you don’t set up your account, there is a greater chance that someone can set one up using your name. One woman took this advice, since anyone who is older than 18 and has a Social Security number, and email and a mailing address, is allowed to open an account, even if they are decades away from claiming any benefits. However, within nine months of doing so, she received an email from the Social Security Administration saying they were deactivating her account. What happened? She hadn’t done anything. No one else, as far as she knew, had access to the account. Therefore, she called the Social Security Administration and requested a direct deposit block on her account. This did two things: it prevented changes to direct deposit information through a financial institution or through the Social Security website. It also stops anyone who might be trying to change a mailing address. Some further research resulted in information about what might have happened. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group website reports that with a name, birth date and Social Security number, a thief can try to open an account in your name and then change your direct deposit information to their checking account. It’s not that hard to gather that information online. A 2018 report from the Javelin Strategy and Research firm found that nearly 30% of Americans were notified of a breach of their accounts in 2017. That’s up from 12% in 2016 and cost $16.8 billion dollars. Scammers have shifted tactics. One consumer helpline reports that there have been fewer complaints about people impersonating IRS agents demanding money and an increase of complaints about people impersonating Social Security Administration representatives. How can you protect yourself? If you haven’t already done so, sign up for a “my Social Security” account. Check it on a regular basis to monitor your address information or date of birth. If you see any information that has changed or is wrong, contact the Social Security Administration immediately. If there’s any fraud or identity theft, you may also want to contact fraud hotlines at the Social Security Administration, Office of the Inspector General, the Federal Trade Commission and the Senate Select Committee on Aging. Reference: Next Avenue (Jan. 17, 2019) “Protect Yourself Against Social Security Identity Theft”