Thursday, June 22, 2017

Elder lawyer in estate misappropriation case receives 8-year sentence

By Greg Wright
Certified Fraud Examiner

Certified Financial Planner™

Stephen Schuyler Mug Shot
My article about attorney Stephen Schuyler dated March 2, 2016 concerned the estate of Sarah Wilding.  Today, following his guilty plea, former elder law attorney Schuyler was sentenced to eight years in prison in connection with the misappropriation of funds from Ms. Wilding’s and five other estates totaling more than $700,000.

Below is a reprint of my 2016 article:

Sarah Wilding trusted her attorney to give the remainder of her estate to her church’s building fund.  Elder attorney, Stephen W. Schuyler had other uses for the money.  Only recently, it finally came to light that Schuyler had over-charged and diverted as much as $500,000 from some of the 130 estate cases he was administering.

East Lynn Christian Church is a small Anderson Indiana church.  Following Sarah Wilding’s death on April 20, 2012, Schuyler paid her final expenses and distributed funds and assets to her named beneficiaries.  That was the plan.  The remainder, $145,003, was to go to the church building fund toward paying off the 2005 sanctuary expansion. 

The church was aware that Sarah had made a final gift to them, and they sought payment from Schuyler.  He stalled and requested the court approve yet another payment for additional attorney fees.  Undeterred, the church pressed him to close the estate and pay them.  Schuyler’s check bounced.

Finally, the police and prosecutor investigated.  They ascertained that, in addition to Wilding, other estates had been looted.  They identified four other estates specifically, and 130 unsettled estates that were eventually assigned to other attorneys.

The East Lynn Christian Church filed a civil complaint against Schuyler and his girlfriend, Kem Golden, for conversion of $164,101 from the Wilding estate. In addition to the civil complaints,

Charges have been made that involve the estate of Frances Clem from 2010 to 2014 of $156,790. Other victims may include other churches, and the local Humane Society. 

Unsurprisingly, Schuyler’s law license was suspended indefinitely, and he is facing 13 felony counts. 

Since supervision may be lax or even non-existent, there are probably similar cases in other communities that have simply not been reported.  The deceased had counted on a trusted attorney to carry out their final requests and not to loot the estate.  But, the lawyer treated the estate assets like his personal piggy bank.

Inheritance hijacking is not that rare.  Thieves who target the elderly and the dead are cunning and patient.  The vulnerable elderly within us are perfect targets – 20 percent are victims.

Strongly consider not waive the requirements that executors be bonded, as many attorneys suggest.  Consider not giving your attorney authority to be your executor.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Identity theft of deceased loved one

By Greg Wright
Certified Fraud Examiner
Certified Financial Planner™

If your mother died, and her identity was stolen after she died and before she was in the ground, it could cause serious problems.  If you are the executor and responsible for fixing this mess, your brother and sister may blame you and hold you responsible.

Not only is identity theft an increasing problem for the living, but, recently, there have been numerous reports about criminals who specialize stealing the identities of the recently deceased. 

Crooks are not only cleaning out the homes of the deceased while loved ones are at the funeral, now they are stealing their financial assets as well.

The dearly departed are vulnerable to identity theft because the family is in mourning and not paying attention to the deceased person’s finances.   

Few financial planners, funeral directors or estate attorneys are familiar with the problem.  Few estate executors have sufficient financial experience themselves or seasoned advisors to help them avoid this problem.

Identity theft is probably the last thing on your mind when a loved one dies.  Both my wife and I have been the executor of our mother’s estates and understood these issues.  There are a few simple things you can do to discourage identity thieves and to minimize the chances that a recently deceased relative's estate will be victimized.

When a person dies, it can take several months for all three credit reporting agencies to be notified.  Between the date of death and the notification, fraudsters have an opportunity to steal.  Once you have a death certificate, do not assume that the credit agencies know.  You should notify them yourself - ASAP.

Also, send official copies of the death certificate — not photocopies — to all entities where your loved one had a financial relationship. I suggest that you contact each creditor, each insurance company, each bank, brokerage house, the Social Security Administration and any pension issuer.

Look for suspicious activities in the months that follow.  Pull a credit report of the deceased and purchase a credit monitoring service for a year following death. 

If you are faced with this unfortunate and untimely situation, contact me for further help.  

Monday, June 5, 2017

Protecting your investment and insurance accounts

By Greg Wright
Certified Fraud Examiner
Certified Financial Planner™

Identity fraudsters look for the big score. 

Using your credit card to buy high-end stuff is okay and can support a drug habit or improve a standard of living.  However, they are looking for the big score. 

 Their objective is to steal your “serious” money -- your retirement accounts and insurance cash values. 

 How secure are those assets?

As you probably know, your personally identifiable information (PII) is easily obtainable and can be purchased in bulk on the internet.  It is often stolen as a result of a data breach, or used by a dishonest employee at a company where you conduct business.  

Fraudsters can use this information to make credit card purchases.  Most of us have had someone make unauthorized purchases using our credit card.  By comparison, these are pretty benign and usually easy to reverse.   More difficult to fix is when new credit accounts are established and statements are mailed to the fraudster’s mail drop. 

Still, these types of identity theft are survivable if they are caught in time.  It might take as long as three years to clear them up and you will forever be explaining to employers, insurers, banks, etc. that you were a victim of identity theft.   

But, if the crook is using a form of “synthetic identity theft” and goes on for a long time, it will change your life as you know it.  It will not be pretty.

I give free seminars to help individuals and small businesses avoid these problems.

Fraudsters look for the big score.  So, once a fraudster has your PII’s (your's is out there already), how do you protect your serious money?  You should ask some tough questions about your investment and insurance company that is keeping and investing your serious money.  Be direct and do not accept evasion to your direct questions.  Here are a few areas of concern:

Security questions and answers
Answers to your security questions often are found on your Facebook and other social media pages. Don’t celebrate your birthday on social media.  Knowing your date of birth is a key step in stealing your ID.  If they want your mother’s maiden name, invent one.  This security is so lame; I would suggest that you consider doing business elsewhere. 
Username and password requirements
If your username is your email address, your password can easily be cracked.  Software is available to crack passwords.  Cheap! Google search the topic yourself.
Secure email
How secure is the investment or insurance firm’s email?
Customer verification
How do they verify your ID? 
Address change
Who has the authority to change your address?  What is the process?  By the way, if you fail to receive US mail for more than two days, contact the Postal Inspector to find out why.  Forwarding your mail is often the first step in identity fraud. 
Your agent or stockbroker
Does he/she have authority to change your address, make distributions, etc?  Did you check his/her background?  Attend one of my “Is your investment advisor a crook” seminars and find out.
Systems surveillance
Are they “really” on the lookout for suspicious irregularities across all their accounts every day, all day. Will they promptly alert you promptly if they spot a problem that could affect you?  How long did Yahoo wait to notify customers of their data breach?  Wasn’t that over a year?
Fraud detection
Will they monitor your accounts for suspicious transactions and unusual behavior to ensure that they are authentic and legitimate?
Security at our branches and offices
How secure is your agent or stockbroker's records?  Who has access to your stuff?  Could your identity be stolen if someone had a copy of an insurance or investment account application?
Restricted access to data
Does the insurance or investment company limit access to systems containing customer data to only those employees who need it to conduct business? We continually monitor access and only grant it to new people on a case-by-case basis. How was it possible for a Fishers, Indiana insurance agent to steal the identity of 3,000 of his employer’s customers?