Useful information to help guide
your probate process

3 Warning Signs of a Probate Scam

Adults over 65 make up an enormous chunk of the U.S. population – yet even still, they are targeted for scams, fraud, and financial abuse at a shockingly high rate.

According to a recent report from the FTC, a staggering 18% of consumers aged 70 or older reported that they lost money to fraud over the course of 2017. Americans 80 or over also tended to lose more per scam, compared to younger generations; on average, seniors lost a whopping $1092 per incident in 2017, compared to $400 for those aged 20-29.

Looking at another metric, most victims of financial exploitation fall between the ages of 80 and 89 – and only about one in forty-four cases of financial elder abuse ever get reported, according to the National Adult Protective Services Association.

As you consider matters of estate planning, trusts, wills, and probate, it may be important to consider the ways in which you can protect yourself from the risk of fraud or financial abuse. Similarly, it is not unheard of for estate executors and family members of the recently deceased to find themselves targeted by scammers and con artists.

Whatever the circumstances, it may ultimately prove beneficial to educate yourself ahead of time on the steps you may take to avoid a scam. Here are three questions to ask that may help you or your loved ones avoid falling into a financial trap, before it’s too late.

1.) How Were You Contacted?

One important consideration? As the BBB’s Page Castrodale suggests, there are certain “hallmarks of common scams.” One tip-off may just be the way in which you were contacted.

For instance, if you were contacted out-of-the-blue by phone or by an unfamiliar email account, this may be cause for alarm. As Ms. Castrodale puts it:

“…giving personal information out over the phone or via email is never a good idea. It is rare that any company would reach out to you directly and ask for your social security number or other sensitive personal information.”

Being contacted by a government agency, a supposed relative, or a service provider out of nowhere may indicate that you are being targeted by what the FTC calls the “imposter scam,” in which “a scammer pretends to be someone you trust to convince you to send them money” or gain access to your sensitive personal information.

2.) Does Anything Seem Too Good to Be True?

Next, BBB officials encourage you to be wary of any offer or deal that seems too good to be true. As Ms. Castrodale writes:

“If you see a coupon offering 75% off at your big box store or your Facebook friend tells you about a government grant that will land hundreds of thousands of dollars in your bank account, a simple gut check about this ‘deal’ should make you pause, or at least investigate further.”

As the FTC explains, consumers should never hesitate to hang up if they receive a call that seems fraudulent or suspicious. If the caller is claiming to be from a real company or service provider, one method may be to call that company or agency directly, using contact information available online or in your service contract.

It may also pay to do some research online, or with consumer protection officials such as your local BBB, or perhaps your state’s attorney general’s office. Have there been other complaints about this business? Does the information that the company has available online seem incomplete or misleading (if it’s there at all)? All of these may be signs that you are not in contact with a real organization, but rather the front for a scam.

3.) How Are You Being Asked to Pay?

One way to spot a scam? Pay close attention to the manner in which you’re being asked to pay up. As the FTC’s Lois C. Greisman puts it:

“Whether someone tells you to pay to claim a prize, help someone out of trouble, or deal with tax issues from the (so-called) IRS: nobody legitimate is ever going to say you have to pay by wiring them money, getting iTunes cards, or putting money on a MoneyPak, Vanilla Reload, or Reloadit card.”

As the FTC explains, scammers opt for these methods because they are quick, difficult to trace, and often all-but-impossible to dispute or reverse. In contrast, credit cards tend to offer a greater level of security for consumers, in many cases.

Next Steps

Interested in learning more about the types of scams that may target seniors or their loved ones during the estate planning process? Here are a few resources worth giving a look:

And remember, consumer protection experts agree: If you suspect that you have been the target of a scam or exploitative behavior, don’t hesitate to break off contact and immediately report the incident to a consumer protection organization. Even if you didn’t fall victim to the scam, your efforts in reporting it could help save the next person from becoming prey.

Beyond the logistics of writing a will or granting power of attorney, many families may want to consider the many mechanisms that are out there to help safeguard older adults’ assets from financial predators. It’s also important to find a probate and estate professional who is responsible, trustworthy, and and willing to listen to your concerns when it comes to scams, fraud, or other consumer protection matters.

Curious about how you can best approach estate planning and administration in the Chicago area? Don’t hesitate to reach out to our team with any questions or concerns!

No attorney-client relationship. The Firm maintains this website exclusively for informational purposes. It is not legal or other professional advice and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Firm or its clients. Viewing this site, using information from it, or communicating with The Firm through this site by email does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and The Firm.

Nonreliance. Online readers should not act or decline to act, based on content from this site, without first consulting an attorney or other appropriate professional. Because the law changes constantly, this website's content may not indicate the current state of the law. Nothing on this site predicts or guarantees future results. The Firm is not liable for the use or interpretation of information contained on this site, and expressly disclaim all liability for any actions you take or do not take, based on this site's content.

Please carefully review our full disclaimer (link) before proceeding.

Contact us directly for a conversation.