Law Office of Paul Black - December 2018

STOP DONATING TO SCAMMERS How to Spot Fraud This Holiday Season

During the season of giving, charities receive a much-needed rush of donations as people open their hearts to others. Unfortunately, criminals are all too willing to abuse this goodwill. According to a report from the Justice Department, Americans over the age of 60 lose over $3 billion a year to scams and fraudsters. As charity scams reach their peak, here is what you need to do to ensure your donations are not lining the pockets of criminals.

ONLY GIVE TO REPUTABLE CHARITIES. Do some research before donating to charities. Look up any prospective charity on Charity Navigator at CharityNavigator. org. This service flags “high concern” organizations suspected of fraud and ranks how reliable established charities are. Even legitimate organizations can be misleading about how they spend their donations. A good rule of thumb is to avoid organizations that spend more than 25 percent of donations on salaries or administrative costs. There are many amazing charities and organizations that do good work. Stay vigilant to make sure you are bringing joy to the world and not falling for a criminal looking to make a quick buck.

NEVER GIVE BY PHONE OR EMAIL. Charities regularly reach out to past and potential donors through traditional mail, email, phone calls, or text messages. This means fraudsters will mimic their approach with less noble intentions. Because it is impossible to determine who is on the other end of a call or email, you should never hand over your credit card information to strangers. If you really are speaking to a representative from a legitimate charity, they will direct you to a secure avenue where you can give without worry.

FEELING PRESSURED? WALK AWAY. A lot of charities set goals they want to reach before the new year, but even groups that are hoping to raise a certain amount of money know better than to pressure donors into giving. Donations should always come from the heart, and it is a bad sign if someone insists there is a deadline for giving. As the Better Business Bureau says, “Responsible organizations will welcome your gift tomorrow as much as they do today.”

Asked and Answered: A Legal Advice Column

Dear Paul:

Dear SOS,

Amazon) that is easily programmed to block unwanted phone calls. In contrast, the “hard way” would be paved with your aunt’s denial of her vulnerabilities and her steadfast refusal to allow others to save her from her own poor money decisions. If she resists efforts to execute any basic estate and incapacity planning documents, continues to send money to all manner of strangers making impossible promises, and “lends” money to borrowers who will never pay her back, you may find yourself in the common but unenviable position of having to evaluate whether it is time to file for conservatorship (in which you ask the probate court for permission to manage her financial decisions). This process is not easy. Or cheap. Or enjoyable. If the court is convinced that your aunt is no longer capable of making financial decisions, you can then pursue the above-detailed protective measures.

My aunt is childless and in her 80s, and her husband died suddenly a year ago. My husband and I go to visit at her home every Sunday afternoon. She still eats well and seems to be doing well physically, but her judgment about money was never the best. She is always generous and often gullible. We are increasingly concerned that she is socially isolated and that she is vulnerable to all sorts of scammers. Her mailbox is filled with foreign sweepstakes offers asking for processing fees to claim her winnings. Her voicemail is full of strangers making impossible promises of millions of dollars in exchange for “processing fees” of hundreds or thousands of dollars. Lastly, she has a hard-luck-story neighbor to whom she has lent about $2,000, who we do not think she will ever see again. What are our options for protecting her?

At the risk of oversimplifying things, there are two potential paths forward in this situation: the easy way and the hard way. Let’s look at both. The easiest way forward would involve your aunt acknowledging that she is vulnerable and being willing to work with you on getting a rock-solid plan in place. If she does not have a financial power of attorney and advance directive for health care in place, these documents will be essential to empower you or others she trusts to help make decisions about her finances and her health care. A well-drafted financial POA often includes a provision allowing you to manage her mail so that you can filter out scam mail before she receives it. So long as your aunt retains capacity and can speak her mind, however, you will need to get permission before you filter her mail. With her permission, you can also install a call blocker (about $80 on

–Sleepless Outside Savannah (aka “SOS”)

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