The largest coordinated sweep of identity fraud involving US seniors has recently been conducted. The US Department of Justice has reported that more than one million elderly people have collectively lost hundreds of millions of dollars because of this targeted financial abuse. The Department has criminally charged 200 out of 250 defendants identified in the sweep. These third party scam artists account for 27% of seniors who are financially exploited.
Con artists and scammers employ many different schemes to defraud seniors of their identity information and money. A large number of them are conducted over the telephone, for instance posing as an Internal Revenue Service agent claiming back taxes are owed, or frightening a grandparent to think that their grandchild has been arrested and needs bail money wired to them. Other schemes include the promise of a prize or lottery cash if they just send a large fee in order to collect their “winnings.”. Seniors become easy victims when targeted by these social engineering schemes and it is likely to get worse because of the proliferation of smart phones and other devices that get seniors to explore the online world.
USA Today reports that while phone scams target one senior at a time the online environment is opening doors to thousands or even millions of seniors falling prey to a single scam. Email and other online channels can reach a vast number of potential victims and more elderly people have an online presence than ever before.
Romance scams that use to be conducted in person can now be achieved in the online dating environment and even in social media. The attacker can befriend multiple seniors online and then ask for money to cover “travel expenses” to visit them. This is particularly successful as many seniors are dealing with isolation and loneliness.
The online shopping world is another vehicle employed by scam artists to defraud seniors of money. All that is needed is a picture of an object that seems to be owned by the scammer and you have the potential to sell that item over and over again to thousands of seniors. All the scam artist has to do is set up a mirror website that appears to be a legitimate online auction house such as E-bay to drain seniors of their money as well as obtain credit card and other identity information. These mirror sites masquerading as official websites are often in the email accounts of seniors and a mere click on a link can download malicious software to their device that is designed to steal critical identity information.
Of the 27% of seniors who do become financially exploited by a third party, 67% do not exhibit symptoms of cognitive decline. That is a huge number of mentally fit seniors being financially exploited. This is a pervasive problem in the elderly community. According to the Federal Trade Commission’s “Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2017” identity fraud is second only to debt collection with regard to consumer complaints. Identity fraud accounted for 14% of all consumer complaints last year. The Commission also reported that seniors who are financially exploited suffer higher median losses than other age groups.
Many seniors who have been targeted are embarrassed, ashamed, or scared as a result. Many never saw themselves as being at risk, they fear retribution from the perpetrator, and they fear that government agencies or family members will label them unfit to care for themselves.
Systems can be put in place to monitor senior accounts and make their money less easy to access by scammers. In addition, there are legal documents that can protect the accounts of seniors during their lifetime, and eliminate the chance of fraud or abuse. Please contact us, your Marietta Elder Law Attorney, for more information on how we can help you or your loved ones reduce the chance of financial fraud or abuse.
As our lives become increasingly digital, more and more of the assets we accumulate are based in technology or created online.
Estate planning attorneys in the Atlanta area have the important job of educating their clients on how to handle “digital assets” in the event of a person’s death or incapacity, and then helping the client document such wishes in a will or trust. Whether it’s an email account, blog, collection of domain names, hosting accounts, apps, ebooks, etc., a good estate planning lawyer in Atlanta can help ensure that only a person the account owner trusts can access and maintain digital assets in their absence.
One area of digital asset planning that has received a lot of attention lately is the management of one’s Facebook profile page. Until recently, loved ones of the deceased only had two choices: 1) Keep the wall public so everyone could continue to post messages and thoughts on the wall or 2) request to have the page “memorialized,” which meant the profile was no longer searchable or visible to those who were not already friends of the individual.
What Facebook did not allow to happen was for someone to manage the profile in the owner’s place. Without explicitly having the password (and the permission to use it!), loved ones could not accept new friend requests, pin important information about memorial services to the top of the profile or update pictures.
That’s all changed this week, though, with the roll out of Facebook’s Legacy Contact feature. Facebook users now have the opportunity to choose a “legacy contact,” either a family member or a friend, whom they want to manage their account when they pass away. Or, they can let Facebook know that they want their account deleted immediately upon their passing.
From Facebook’s Newsroom:
Today we’re introducing a new feature that lets people choose a legacy contact—a family member or friend who can manage their account when they pass away. Once someone lets us know that a person has passed away, we will memorialize the account and the legacy contact will be able to:
- Write a post to display at the top of the memorialized Timeline (for example, to announce a memorial service or share a special message)
- Respond to new friend requests from family members and friends who were not yet connected on Facebook
- Update the profile picture and cover photo
If someone chooses, they may give their legacy contact permission to download an archive of the photos, posts and profile information they shared on Facebook. Other settings will remain the same as before the
account was memorialized. The legacy contact will not be able to log in as the person who passed away or see that person’s private messages.
Alternatively, people can let us know if they’d prefer to have their Facebook account permanently deleted after death.
As you plan for the handling of your digital assets after death, the Facebook Legacy Contact Feature is an important tool to mention during the process. By simply logging into your account and following the directions below, you can easily make your wishes for your Facebook account known.
Here’s how to utilize the new feature:
Open Facebook settings. Choose Security Settings and then Legacy Contact at the bottom of the page.
After choosing your legacy contact, you’ll have the option to send a message to that person.
Here’s a snapshot of what a page will look like once memorialized. You’ll notice the word “remembering” over the deceased’s name.
How do you feel about the creation of Facebook’s new “Legacy Contact” feature? Will you take advantage of the opportunity to name a contact and share this information with your clients? Sound off why, or why not, send me an email or leave a comment below and let me know.
Many thanks to my friend Laura Lee Sparks for this post!
Estate planning lawyers in Cobb County have always had to keep up with the times, and this is just as true in Georgia as it is anywhere else. Often these changes include things like new legislation, but there are other factors that need to be considered, such as differing lifestyles and advancing technologies. Have you ever stopped to wonder what happens to your Facebook when you die?
It’s a question that even the legal world is starting to address. Of course, Facebook is only one of the social networks out there, and it’s likely that more will emerge, with some taking over the spotlight. For now, Facebook is certainly one of the most talked about, as Facebook has reached a billion users. As of November of 2012, Twitter had 500 million, Google+ had 400 million, Skype had 280, and LinkedIn had 175 million. And this represents only a fraction of the social networks that are out there.
New York, Oklahoma, and Nebraska were some of the first states to start taking a look at how estate planning attorneys might assist clients in designating personal representatives to take over their social media accounts should the original owner become deceased or incapacitated. Some people are referring to this as an “online executor,” and it’s even being suggested to officially name this person in the will or trust.
What About Facebook?
While it still remains to be seen how things will play out, especially as newer technologies become part of the Cobb County estate planning landscape, Facebook (as well as many other social media networks) already does have a system in place for dealing with the death of a user.
When someone passes away, Facebook allows another person to notify them. They will need to be able to supply the individual’s full name (used on the account), email address used to create the account, and the URL of the deceased’s profile. This is done through a form. In addition, the person must report their relationship with the deceased.
At this point, Facebook will ask what should be done with the profile. Some families prefer to take the entire thing down. Others choose the option of “memorializing” the page. When this happens, Facebook allows only those who were already confirmed as friends to see and post on the page. Many friends do this as a way to leave memories or express condolences to those left behind. If the account has been memorialized, it is removed from the general search function.
Another common option is for people to create their own pages in memory of a friend or family member. This can even be done in conjunction with the memorializing of the original page. The benefit is that this allows those who were not confirmed friends on the original account to leave messages, post photos, etc.
So, do you need to get a Cobb County will lawyer involved when it comes to your Facebook account? The answer to that is “maybe.” If your account is part of your business strategy, for example, you might find it to be even more imperative. Even for those who just use Facebook and other social media for personal communication, naming an online executor is something to consider.
Our Cobb County wills, trusts and probate law firm can help you get started in creating a digital asset protection plan that best meets your personal or business needs. For more information or to schedule a complimentary Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session, please give our office a call at 770-425-6060.
For Atlanta wills lawyers like me, estate planning means so much more than just avoiding taxes and planning for death. Instead, it’s about preserving your “whole family legacy,” which includes family values, traditions and memories should something unexpectedly happen to you.
To that end, your memories are priceless treasures that you’ve spent a lifetime trying to preserve. Years ago it was the shoe box of pictures under the bed or the trunk in the attic, but in today’s tech-savvy world social media has taken their place.
More and more people are using social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to record important memories such as the birth of a baby, a child’s graduation, a wedding and so much more. And what makes this option so special is that it allows the owner of the social media account, along with friends and family to post comments and other valuable insights on each post.
Social media accounts serve as a cache for photos and videos – all of which are incredibly valuable to your family. Doesn’t it make sense, then, that you include a plan to preserve the memories hosted on your social media accounts along with the rest of your family’s legacy? Even though we are still at the dawn of what social media will become, the major social media platforms are already beginning to address the issue of how to handle social media accounts when the owner passes away. Here are a few examples:
Twitter recently adopted a policy to handle ownership of a deceased user’s account. Twitter requires the following information:
1. Your full name, contact information (including e-mail address), and your relationship to the deceased user.
2. The username of the Twitter account, or a link to the profile page of the Twitter account.
3. A link to a public obituary or news article.
Once you provide Twitter with these three things, you can either request that the deceased user’s account be deleted or receive an archive of all of the deceased user’s tweets offline.
Facebook has a unique feature where they will memorialize the profile of a deceased account holder. When a profile is memorialized, only current “friends” will be able to see it. It is however, still active so that friends can leave messages on the wall in remembrance.
To have someone’s profile memorialized, just click this link and you’ll be able to submit a request. You can also request that the decedent’s account be deleted using this form.
LinkedIn has a simple Verification of Death form, which is easy to complete. You can find this form and the information required to close the account on the LinkedIn Customer Support Center. You can opt to submit the form either online or via fax. You will need to know the account holder’s email address used on the account. This is what is used to verify the person’s identity.
As with all other aspects of estate planning, it is important to discuss what you want to happen to your online profiles with your Marietta, Georgia, wills and estates lawyer and document your wishes in writing. If you would like to discuss this with an Atlanta, Georgia, wills and estates lawyer who understands the importance of preserving a real legacy for your family, call us today at 770-425-6060 to schedule your own Georgia Family Treasures Planning Session (these usually cost $600 but you can get in at no charge if you’ll mention this blog post on social media). However, these appointments are limited each month, so call today!