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SENIOR ADVOCATE

By Liza Horvath

 

Window of Opportunity for Scammers

 

When Steve’s wife got a call from the Internal Revenue Service stating that additional income taxes were owed, she immediately called her husband and alerted him to the disturbing call. Steve called the number his wife had been provided and the official sounding woman who answered put Steve on hold before connecting him to the “agent.” For the next 15 minutes, Steve discussed his tax returns and the alleged shortfall in what they had paid. When Steve became suspicious that the call was scam, the agent told Steve that he could come to the IRS office – even providing Steve with the address. Ultimately, through a number of sources, Steve determined that the call was, in fact, a scam.

 

The very disturbing part of this scenario is that Steve was initially convinced the call was authentic. Steve is smart – a lawyer, in fact – and, because he works every day in the world of laws, courts, judges and criminals, the reality that he was taken in – albeit briefly – should be of significant concern to all of us.

 

Over the years I have written about the acute susceptibility of seniors to scammers and so has fellow columnist, Peter Hoss. The reasons are many, not the least of which is that seniors are, generally speaking, nice people and they believe other people are nice, as well. This trust, unfortunately, can be a downfall. Couple the trust factor with, at times, declining cognitive ability and a certain “window of opportunity” opens for abuse, undue influence or simple overreaching by others.    

 

According to the California Department of Consumer Affairs, aside from the fraud and scams being perpetrated  through identify theft, bogus charities, phony telemarketers, unlicensed contractors and fake “inheritance” or sweepstake rip-offs, there are some new ones that seem so real that even a smart guy like Steve can be taken in. The IRS scam has been extensively reported, but have you heard about funeral service rip-offs? A grieving family goes to the funeral home and ends up paying much more than they can really afford for services – they are in anguish and want to do their best for the lost loved one. Grief can impair judgment – but is this really a scam? Probably not - maybe we should just say it is opportunistic.

 

The common thread throughout most scams, overspending or bad investment decisions is the lack of having an advisor that you confide in and one that provides completely objective advice. Even more important than having this smart friend or advisor is a commitment on your part that you will listen to them when they tell you not to take a certain risk or not to send just “one more payment to receive your sweepstake winnings.” Does a “financial Sherpa” really exist? Yes, and you may already have one. If you take the time to preplan your funeral, your family will not need to guess at what you may have wanted. If you have appointed a trustee or personal representative to help you later – they are committed to being there when you need them and maybe that time is now. Remember that you chose that trustee or advisor after great consideration and the trustee, upon agreeing to act as your trustee, has made a commitment to you. That person can help you make decisions about investments, the phone caller informing you about an expected inheritance or whether the funeral package you are considering is the right one. Your advisor can help close the window of opportunity a scammer may have. Trust them and take advantage of their wisdom - lest you become yet one more statistic on the Consumer Affairs’ victim’s list.

Liza Horvath has over 30 years experience in the estate planning and trust fields and is the president of Monterey Trust Management, a financial and trust management company. This is not intended to be legal or tax advice. If you have a questions call (831)646-5262 or email liza@montereytrust.com

 


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