Friday, May 31, 2013

Governmental Help for Checking your Credit Score

You can and should get a copy of your credit report free once every 12 months.

There is a government website which gives you information on how to order, complete with links to forms, addresses, and contact phone numbers.   The site also tells you why you should do it, how long it takes, and what to do if you discover inaccuracies.

Here are some reasons WHY you should do this every 12 months:

1. Inaccuracies are very common.  The report may show a debt as unpaid that you did pay or it may list information that belongs to someone else and not you, show outdated information or list disputed debts.  You can and should correct these errors.
2. Someone else's information may be on your report - For instance, an ex-spouse, a family member, someone with a similar name or social security number, or a stranger that had one of the same addresses that you had (but not at the same time).
3. If you have been divorced or are about to be, you should know your credit score.  Your credit score will be important if you are going to buy a new home or car, and may be checked if you are applying for certain jobs. Know what a third party will see.  Once you are divorced, make sure that your ex-spouse's credit issues are not on  your report.

In some cases, your divorce decree may specify that your spouse needs to pay a debt, but you may remain legally responsible to the creditor (but not always).  This area can be tricky to interpret and is based on family law, contract law and consumer law that is both federal and state law.  If you compare your credit report and your divorce decree, and you still aren't sure whether the credit report is accurate, ask for help from a family law/consumer law attorney.

Here is the link to the government website: Free Credit Reports 

Kalish Law Office:  Family law, consumer law and  business law. Since 1984. The Woodlands, Texas
"Passionate, Professional and Personal. We Make the Difference."

Friday, May 17, 2013

What you Need To Know About Being an Executor

The May 2013 AARP Bulletin has an excellent article about being an executor of an estate. The article urges that anyone who is going to make that promise or take on that responsibility should know the practical aspects of the job they are signing up to do.  Specifically, anyone who is going to accept an appointment as executor should first ask himself/herself whether they have the time, skills, temperament and knowledge to do this, or have the willingness to learn. 

Help is available. In addition to general information online, some probate courts have booklets and other resources available to those who are serving as Executor (also called "Personal Representative").  Be aware that these resources are going to be state-specific so you need to be sure that any information you rely on is valid in the state of the probate case. 

Attorneys can also help. For instance, when we have drafted a will for a client and that person later dies, the family often comes back to our firm and hires us to help with the distribution of the estate and probate process (when probate court is necessary).    We also see families for the first time after the death of a loved one.   So an executor can seek an attorney's help with the estate whether or not that attorney is the same one who drafted the will. 

To see the AARP article, click here.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Many Faces of Fraud.. Part II... The "Known" Perpetrator

Last time we covered fraud that is committed in an "impersonal" manner.  Unfortunately, fraudulent activity is not confined to those situations. Here are a few other types of fraud that I hope you never encounter.

Marital Fraud

When one spouse defrauds another proving the fraudulent activity can be important to a the final division of property in a divorce case. Marital fraud can take various forms. The most common is the hiding of assets. The spouse who is acting in bad faith may hide money, real or personal property, regular income, commissions or  bonuses from the innocent spouse.   Another type of fraud occurs when one spouse forges an innocent spouse's name without his/her permission in order to obtain loans or credit. 

If you believe that you may have been defrauded by your spouse, you should try to gather proof while you have the opportunity.  Once you confront your spouse or have him/her served with a divorce suit, s/he may attempt to hide evidence.   Although you can request documentation or a deposition through your attorney once a suit is filed, this process can take a while and will cost you some money.   Therefore, it is a good idea to get a copy of the evidence while you can, unless it will put you or someone you care about at a physical risk. 

You should contact a divorce attorney who is familiar with the complications that marital fraud can add to a case. 

Consumer Fraud

Another type of fraud that is common is consumer fraud.  This fraud can be perpetrated more easily by someone who gets to know you face to face.

You can help prevent this type of problem by taking the following steps: 1) if you need a service provider or need to make a major purchase, try to get a personal referral or at least check out the person/company online; 2) don't let anyone pressure you into making a quick decision  3) read any contracts thoroughly 4) only rely on what is written in the contract and ask for any guarantees or changes in contract terms to be in writing.

Certain types of activity may be covered by the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. If you file a suit under this act, and win, you may be entitled to additional damages and may also be able to recover reasonable attorneys fees.  A business or consumer attorney can help you evaluate your situation and tell you the most efficient and financially feasible way to handle it.

Other Types of Fraud

In some cases, someone close to you may choose to forge your name, take on your identity, or steal from you. Whether it is a family member, friend, colleague, former employee or neighbor, you may have various legal remedies.  You may be able file a criminal report, in other cases a civil suit to recover your damages may be appropriate.   Some situations may call for both criminal and civil action. 

If you are a business owner and an employee acts fraudulently at your place of business or by using your name, you will need to do some quick damage control. First, be sure that none of your customers are harmed and that none of their personal data or assets are at risk.  You will need to immediately restrict that employee's access to your business records and information.  You should take immediate action against that person, document everything and be certain that you are familiar with employment law regarding disciplinary action and termination.  Consulting with a business attorney right away can help you to avoid pitfalls that make the situation worse, and manage your risk adequately. 

As we have seen there are many types of fraud.  If you have been a victim of fraud, you should become familiar with all your options. A legal consult can help you to decide the best way to minimize damages and whether or not you should take further action. 

Kalish Law Office - The Woodlands Texas 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Happy Mother's Day


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Many Faces of Fraud- Part I of 2

Unfortunately, this is a big topic.   There are many varieties of fraud and this post will cover a few of the most common, as well as give some tips on how to deal with fraud, and how to avoid it in the first place! This first blog will cover the fraud perpetrated by strangers.... the next one will give you some options in the case of a known perpetrator.

Telemarketing Fraud:

Telemarketing fraud has gotten much more sophisticated.  Often the fraudulent callers will possess enough information to make it sound as if it may be legit.   Common targets: senior citizens and business owners.  These unscrupulous callers tend to talk fast, be persistent, and use high pressure tactics. They may have some accurate information about you in order to get you to let your guard down.  Businesses are targets because someone who is answering a phone during business hours may be busy and pressed for time, and therefore more willng to "just tell them what they want to know" in order to get the annoying caller off the phone.   These callers may use the phone number or website address of a legitimate business in order to get you to trust them. For instance, a recent scam involves someone claiming to be from "The Better Business Bureau" who calls and leaves the website address for the actual BBB, but in reality is not associated with it.  Best defenses: NEVER give up information on the phone. If they are legitimate, they won't mind you saying "no".   Don't be pushed into a decision.   Keep repeating "I do not give that information out over the phone."  Hang up.   Make sure the senior citizens and children in your family understand safety rules about answering the phone. Train your employees not to give out information on the phone.

Credit Card Fraud:

I have written blogs about this before, and I'll say it again:  SHRED your old credit card documents.   Check your credit report periodically.  Make sure you login to only safe sites online. Don't write down personal information in a place where someone can see it or steal it.   Organize yourself.   The U.S. Secret Service advises that everytime you call an 800, 888, or 900 number your name and address are captured and become part of your electronic profile.  So be careful who you call!

Email and "4-1-9" Fraud

Email scams are called 4-1-9 scams (based on a section of the Nigerian Penal Code that deals with fraud.   A few years ago, these scams were almost laughable ("Hi, I am a Nigerian Prince and I have a check with your name on it, please write back!") but they have become extremely sophisicated.  Don't click on links in the email and don't respond to scams (even if you think it may be fun to "mess with them").   Clicking and responding can cause (at worst) a virus in your computer and theft of electronic data and (best case) an annoying pen pal you can't get rid of.   When you delete the message, delete it from your trash bin as well. It's also a good idea to run a virus scan if you accidentally open one of these emails.   If you have a business and can't avoid opening these emails (because you can't afford to miss some "real customers"), invest in a good virus protection program, train yourself and your staff in how to recognize and deal with fraud and have a system to screen potential clients (hint: they DO know how to create fake I.D.).  You should be familiar with the ways to report fraud (to Texas Attorney General, FBI, U.S. Secret Service, or your local law enforcement and/or District Attorney - depending on the situation).  If you have been defrauded, you should immediately report this to the proper authority (see below).

Creditor Fraud

Creditor fraud takes many forms: pretending that the person owes a debt when the caller knows they do not, attempting to collect a debt that the caller knows is not valid,  misquoting the law (for example telling a widowed spouse that they are responsible for debts of a deceased spouse when the caller knows that they are not), and various misuse or disregard of state and federal laws.  These callers may also try to pressure you in revealing information that you shouldn't, and may even threaten you.   This type of behavior should be reported to proper authorities.

Identity Theft

We have written blogs about this before, because it is so widespread.   The tips quoted above for the other types of fraud also apply here: guard your papers, passwords and private info.  Don't give out information about yourself. Watch what you say online.  Don't trust someone who wants your personal info.  Shred papers.   Watch your credit report.  Look around when you are using the ATM and keypads. Don't leave gas receipts or credit card receipts behind.  If you have been a victim of identity theft, act fast. Report this to your bank, all accounts, the social security office, credit reporting agencies, and possibly to a Driver's License office. 

Helpful Links

Texas DPS Identity Theft Information

U.S. Secret Service: check out "Protecting Yourself"

Texas Attorney General: Frauds and Scams

F.B.I. - Identity Theft

Next time... the "known" perpetrator, maritial fraud, business fraud, and how an attorney can help you.

Kalish Law Office - The Woodlands Texas