Theft & Fraud

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Swindlers and thieves have plagued the earth throughout time. Jesus was hung on a cross between two of them. They follow different paths into crime, but they all want the same thing – your money. If you don’t know the signs, they may sneak up and take it from you. This article summarizes some of the schemes in use today.

Three common fraudulent strategies appear among crooks repeatedly: fear, sympathy, and confidence. Some bandits use fear by posing as government officials and threatening harsh action against you or posing as your rescuer from some imaginary threat. Some other fiends plead for help in an imaginary crisis. Confidence artists (or “con-artists” for short) lull their victims into carelessness by making themselves to appear responsible and trustworthy.

Business people have been defrauded recently by a fear scheme in which the crooks send official looking notices that order the businesses to complete questionnaires and send money to comply with corporate laws. These crooks buy the names and addresses of all corporations, LLCs, and other business entities in the state and blanket the state with phony notices. Our law firm received such a notice for our own corporation and we turned the notice over to the Indiana Attorney General for investigation.

Crooks also use fear by impersonating government officials, such as IRS agents, and threatening legal action unless the victims pay money over the phone with credit cards.

The sympathy scheme appears as a plea for help telephone calls and email scams. In a telephone scam, a caller may drop a name of someone you know to gain your confidence and then ask you to send gas and food money to them through Walmart’s money transfer system (someone tried that scam on us in February 2015). In the email version, hackers will forge an email from one of your friends, and ask you to send money to bail them out of a jam (we see this almost every month – usually a friend supposedly stranded on vacation after losing a purse or wallet). Always verify the communication completely independently of the caller (find someone you trust to meet the person face-to-face) and never click on a link in one of those emails.

The confidence scheme can resemble a Trojan horse strategy or something much more direct.

Internet variations on the Trojan horse strategy include fake vendor websites that harvest your credit card information or legitimate looking forged emails from friends with hyperlinks that load computer applications on your computer or mobile device and harvest confidential personal data. Another Trojan horse strategy appears as phony mailed notice or phone call from an imposter posing as a representative of a legitimate organization such as Publishers Clearinghouse with news that you have won a cash prize, but instructing you to send personal information and pay a fee to collect the prize (see the Publishers Clearinghouse fraud alert website for more details and advice about this particular scam – PCH is trying to fight the crooks).

Some crooks may cheat you more directly by posing as reputable Internet merchants through a legitimate online merchandising system like EBay or Amazon. An online seller usually receives payment before delivering goods, but an online crook may trick an inexperienced seller into shipping the goods before receiving the payment and disappear without paying for the goods.

In the spring and early summer months, we often find home-improvement crooks offering to replace roofs or repair driveways at lower than normal prices with substantial down payments. Unfortunately, the swindlers often cash their advance fee checks and disappear without providing any service.

The old saying that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is, still works today. If you receive a call, email, or letter seeking your personal information or money, slow down and proceed with caution. If you take the communication to your lawyer, your lawyer should be able to figure out whether the communication is fraudulent or legitimate and protect you and your money from thieves.

Jeff R. Hawkins and Jennifer J. Hawkins are Trust & Estate Specialty Board Certified Indiana Trust & Estate Lawyers and Jeff is a Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. Both lawyers are admitted to practice law in Indiana, and Jeff Hawkins is admitted to practice law in Illinois. Jeff is also a registered civil mediator and the 2014-15 President of the Indiana State Bar Association.

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