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Legal Notes

Recent legal scams

My 89-year-old father’s e-mail was anxious. “I have been getting bombarded on the internet about big Social Security changes becoming effective May 1. The blurbs are full of unspecified warnings about losing payments.” He clicked on a video and was offered “valuable reports for only $49!”

Thankfully, my father is shrewd and cheap, so he called me for free advice. I was quick to assure him that there was nothing to worry about. I determined that the pending changes do not take away any existing benefits; they eliminate one strategy for future married applicants (in other words, everyone receiving benefits now is safe!). It reminded me of some of the other scams my clients have encountered recently:

  1. After my clients receive a new Deed from my office that I prepared as part of their estate plan and recorded at the Registry of Deeds, they often get a letter from a company offering them a copy of the Deed for $83.00. It looks official and presents like a legitimate bill. Some even impose an additional charge if you pay after the “due date.” The envelope usually says “Deed Processing Notice” and comes from a company called, “Record Transfer Services,” “Conveyance Transfer Services,” or “Secured Document Services.” Many of my clients call me, because they think they have to pay it (and some do!). Trust me, there is no need to pay $83.00 for a document you can access and print-out yourself on-line at masslandrecords.com for free!
  2. A postcard or letter arrives, saying that you have unclaimed (abandoned) property and a company will help you to retrieve it. My clients typically receive these from a company called Keane and there is just enough mystery in the correspondence to entice you to call. The small print indicates a 20-30% commission. Although you may, indeed, have abandoned property (an asset you forgot you had or a dividend check that never made it to you), you do not need a third party to get it for you – you can go on-line or call the Abandoned Property Division yourself. No fees or commissions! These notices can have an upside, however: upon receiving one once, I was able to quickly determine that a client had $90,000 in shares of stock being held with Abandoned Property. The direct contact ensured that she received the full amount.
  3. Some of my clients need to apply on-line for tax identification numbers for estates and trusts. Several have been duped by a company (irs-tax-id.com) which offers to handle the application for $247. Want it for free? Go to irs.gov and apply for the number on your own.

I am glad my father knew to question what he read on-line…

The views expressed in this column represent general information. To address your particular and specific needs consult your own attorney. If you need help with referral to an attorney, contact the Franklin County Bar Association at (413) 773-9839 or the Worcester County Bar Association at (978) 752-1311.

Call Community Legal Aid at 413-774-3747 or toll-free 1-855-CLA-LEGAL (1-855-252-5342) during their intake hours (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and Wednesday from 1:30 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.). Apply for help anytime online by visiting www.communitylegal.org. Franklin County Office is located at 55 Federal St, Greenfield, MA. The office is no longer open for walk-ins. Services are free to people age 60 and older.