Inheritance Theft: Rarely Committed By Strangers

Inheritance theft occurs when a person, usually a relative, friend, new spouse or advisor, takes advantage of his or her relationship with the person making the will (called a testator), to obtain or take money or property from the testator that the testator intended to leave to his legal heirs.

The person attempting to steal the testator’s assets gains his trust and proceeds to use such tactics as undue influence, isolation, manipulation, lies, threats or forgery to obtain alleged “gifts”, cash and property.

When most people hear the term inheritance theft, they presume these are acts committed by outsiders that are not related to the testator.  The opposite is true- the vast majority of inheritance thefts are committed by the testator’s own children or other family members.

Seniors are particularly vulnerable to inheritance theft and – under undue influence –  will give away valuables, money and other property to people that visit or stay with them more or help them on a regular basis, especially if the testator’s relatives live far away.

Signs of Inheritance Theft:

  1. The inheritance thief physically moves in or close to his intended victim or visits often.
  2. He insinuates himself into the daily lifestyle of the testator (runs errands, accompanies testator to medical appointments, becomes involved in financial matters, etc.)
  3. There are signers or owners are added to the testator’s bank accounts.
  4. There are bank, brokerage, and retirement account statements indicating withdrawals in amounts that are greater than normal.
  5. The testator is isolated from other family members.

Penalties for Inheritance Theft:

Anyone involved in an inheritance scam can potentially face criminal charges for a variety of crimes including:

  • State or federal fraud charges.
  • Bank fraud charges
  • Identity theft charges
  • Wire fraud charges
  • Forgery charges

These criminal charges, if proven, carry serious penalties and, a defendant could also be subject to civil or criminal forfeiture, a civil lawsuit and forced to pay restitution to the victim.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware

As always, stay safe.

Profiling The Latest Social Media Predator: The Carpetbomber

Recently, we constructed a profile of an online predator known as a catfisher.  Recapped: one involved in this activity creates a fake profile (or uses his real name but provides very little verifiable personal information) and pursues unwitting targets via social media for his own selfish reason – whether it’s attention-seeking, pursuing an offline sexual encounter, a money grab, etc.  We previously provided these tips on identifying catfishers:

How To Spot A Catfisher:

1. Caginess about life details: Marital status, age, location, field of employment, etc.

2. Has few photos of himself.

3. The few photos that he has posted aren’t usually of him with consistent people in his life.

4. Few, if any, posts on his timeline denoting real time activities with friends and family.

On the heels of the Catfisher, we’re now encountering cases involving the “CarpetBomber”.  Having undoubtedly catfished to select his targets- he friends them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. and gains access to their cell numbers – he then claims to not be on that social media platform any longer.

How To Spot A Carpetbomber:

1.Texts seemingly innocuous (“feeler”) messages during off (evening/late night) hours.

2. Engages the target, over the course of time,  in more revealing, confidential conversations.

3. Builds on this “trust” and becomes more demanding – pushing the target’s comfort zones.  (The carpetbomber generally employs passive/aggressive control over the targets- complimenting upon cooperation; punishing the unaccommodating or reluctant with silence, withholding, disrespect, etc.)

4. Portrays himself as a “giver” to others – emotionally, physically, financially, etc.,  – yet he mostly demands from his targets.

5. Off kilter messages. Very few people can maintain fluid simultaneous multiple conversations.  In identifying a carpetbomber, look for texts that seemingly make sense but are slightly out of context or the timing is delayed or off.  While texting can lend itself to misunderstandings, it has a logical flow.  Carpetbombing does not follow a normal conversational stream.  It is often stilted, with the predator apologizing for “mistakes” and often blames the technology, trying  to appear self-effacing re: his tech skills.

6. Almost all communication is in writing; either by text or email.  The carpetbomber is messaging several targets at once –  impossible to do by phone.

7. Uses messaging apps with secret chats (which he can permanently delete on both ends), such as Snapchat or Telegram.

Don’t be fooled by this ever-evolving predator; he knows exactly what he is doing, what he wants and considers himself an expert on human nature- i.e., perverting its base instincts and innocence.

Bottom line: If it doesn’t read right, it’s usually not.  Keep an eye out for especially emotionally vulnerable people. If a loved one or a friend is becoming secretive, experiencing personality shifts, operating at strange hours… find out with whom they are communicating.   Perhaps an earlier intervention can preclude a damaging result.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

Facebook Quizzes, Cute And A Perfect Tool For Identity Thieves.

Just about everyone on Facebook has been drawn to taking one of those “Share with your friends” quizzes – the last widely spread lure being “What Is Your Elf On A Shelf Name?”.  Full disclosure: I was halfway through that one myself when I realized what I do for a living. <facepalm>  In my defense, who doesn’t love a good quiz?  Aside from my Elf name, I was curious to know which Disney princess I am and what food matches my personality. Not smart.

Quite a few police departments have issued a Facebook quiz scam alert, warning that those “harmless” quizzes may not actually be all that harmless after all.

Think about the security questions we have to answer to just about every one of our online accounts – banking, credit reporting agencies, even Expedia, etc.   Who was your first-grade teacher? What was your favorite pet’s name? What’s the first name of your childhood best friend?  By providing this information in a social media quiz, you may be handing hackers the keys to your identity.  Hackers then build a profile of you through several different data sources.

An example of how quiz scamming works:

This quiz uses the first letter of your first name and your birth month to determine your “Elf” name. So, when you post your response, online hackers can figure out your birth month and then click through to your profile page to get more information.

facebook quiz scam alert

A nugget of information in isolation may not seem like a big deal, but combining that with other data that may be out there can result in a greater threat,” says Rachel Rothman, Chief Technologist for the Good Housekeeping Institute. “Be mindful of photos or posts that could give away information about your location or self (like your birthday) and consider if you are posting something that could be used to locate you offline or make it easier for someone to figure out any of your passwords.”

While the person posting and sharing these quizzes usually has innocent intentions, your response puts the information out there for all to see. That can be scammers or, as the Better Business Bureau points out, data mining companies who sell your information to other businesses.

With Valentine’s Day coming up this week, please resist the urge to respond to “What Does Your Valentine’s Day Cookie Say?” or “What Will Happen To You This Valentine’s Day”.  I can answer those two questions for you right now: 1. “If all you got for Valentine’s Day was this lousy cookie, consider dating someone else.” and “A lot or nothing.” There you go: informed, safe and sound.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

 

How To Stay Safe On Free Public WiFi.

wi fi thief

Public Wi-Fi hotspots – they’re convenient, readily available all over now and basically open to all.    They’re everywhere – airports, hotels and in every Starbucks across the nation.  And everyone uses them to read work emails, watch videos and update social media.

How identity thieves use fake public Wi-Fi to steal your information.

Well, anywhere you find a crowd, you’ll find a criminal.  Criminals love public Wi-Fi spots too – so much so that they like to create their own hotspots to deceive you. One of their most common tricks is to use a generic name like “Hotel Wi-Fi”.  So, you might think you’re logging onto the hotel’s Wi-Fi, but end up signing onto a hacker’s network instead.  (You should verify the Wi-Fi network name with the hotel.  Be sure it matches the name of the hotel Wi-Fi network.)

Accidentally logging into the criminal’s network obviously makes it  easy for them to steal sensitive information like your logins and passwords.

How To Stay Safe On Public Wi-Fi:

  • If you’re using a smartphone, use the cellular connection instead of Wi-Fi. That’s much harder for hackers to intercept.
  • When banking, use your institution’s official app and sign up for any extra security that your bank offers.
  • Checking social media? Use the network’s official app. This is more secure than accessing in through the website.
  • If your laptop is set to sharing at work or at home, shut off sharing.
  • Don’t automatically connect to Wi-Fi networks.

The basic rule of thumb is, if the site is asking for your personal log-in information, do not reveal this info and stay away from that site.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.

Your Social Security Number, Please? Just Say NO! When Disclosing Your SSN Is Mandatory.

ssn

Your Social Security number is one of the most important keys to your financial health. It’s a unique identifier that lenders use to assess your creditworthiness. It’s also exactly what a would-be thief needs to apply for a credit card, mortgage, car loan or job in your name.

If you’re like most Americans, it’s also something you give out all too frequently and often, unnecessarily.

Case in point: A recent Javelin Strategy & Research report — their ID Fraud Survey — found that, among identity theft victims, 38 percent said the perpetrator had obtained their Social Security number and used it in the crime.  It’s certainly logical to state that you could eliminate 38 percent of your risk of identity theft by limiting access to your Social Security number.

Also, given the massive government and corporate database breaches lately, it’s equally safe to assume that someone – other than you – has your SSN info.

So, when is it mandatory to provide your true SSN and when is it not required?  See our chart below, developed by credit reporting agency, Experian.

WHO CAN, CAN’T REQUIRE YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER
Mandatory                                                         Optional
Credit applications                                                 Doctor and dentist intake forms
Cash transactions over $10,000                          Supermarkets
When applying for certain federal benefits       Drugstores
Military paperwork                                                 Preschools
Department of Motor Vehicles                             Airlines

‘Your Social Security number, please’
Still, saying you are going to limit access to your SSN and doing it are two different things.  From the dentist’s office to your child’s pre-school, nearly every application or information form we fill out these days requests your Social Security number.  Shopping stores may ask for it, too, when accepting a check for payment or before issuing check cashing privileges. Potential employers also need it but it is important to remember that you should provide them your SSN only to process your E-Verify submission in anticipation of being employed at this company.  If you are not hired, request that your paperwork, identifying your SSN, be returned or destroyed.  Why would you want it lingering in someone else’s possession and have no control over who may have access to it?  You may also be asked for it by car dealerships, pawnshops, drugstores — even at the airport, should you lose your luggage.  It’s amazing how prolific this practice has become.  (A few years ago I was placing my mother’s things in storage, and I was asked for my SSN.  I denied the request.  It was wholly unnecessary for the transaction at hand.)

Just because someone asks for it doesn’t mean you have to comply,  especially since there are only a handful of organizations that actually have a valid need for it. For instance, anytime you’re applying for credit — for a new credit card, a loan, new utility or cellular service — the creditor will need your Social Security number to run a credit check. You’ll also need to provide it if you are applying for federal or local government benefits such as Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, unemployment insurance or disability. The local motor vehicle department, thanks to the USA PATRIOT Act, has the legal right to ask for Social Security numbers, too. In addition, when you complete a cash transaction totaling more than $10,000 you’ll be required to provide your number so that transaction can be reported to the IRS.

Medical professionals have their own reasons, too.  As morbid as this is, should you die while under a doctor’s care, they are required to put your Social Security number on the death certificate.

Still, fulfilling noncredit-related requests — even medical-related requests — is purely optional.  The problem however is that while you have the right to refuse to disclose your SSN, a business owner has a right to deny doing business with you.  Understandably, they want reassurance should they have to track you down for not paying a bill.

Gracefully saying ‘no’
One of the best ways to get out of giving your Social Security number to someone is to simply overlook it on your paperwork.  It’ll probably not be questioned  If so, however, simply ask why they need it.  But again, be prepared to be denied service if you refuse to provide it.

 

In the worst case scenario — when you absolutely can’t get out of it, but you still don’t feel comfortable –  make up a number.  Just make sure you write it down and don’t inadvertently steal someone else’s identity. The easiest way to ensure that is by putting in two zeros for the middle digits.  No Social Security Number have double zeros in that section.

It’s high time we take back control of our personal identifiers and especially one as important as our SSN which follows us from cradle to grave.  Just be smart and non-confrontational about it.

BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.

As always, stay safe.