Quick best practice tip for your 2020 financial and legal documents


young woman signing a financial document with two other people watching

It’s a new year – time to get in the habit of changing the year that you use when you write a quick check or date documents. But there’s another habit you should alter this year, according to police and other crime experts: write out the full year of 2020 in your handwritten dated documents, not just the abbreviated ’20. Failing to write the full year of 2020 might open you to costly fraud.

While it’s common to date documents in this format – 1/7/20 – the unique nature of this year’s date makes it too easy for a fraudster to change the year by simply adding more digits on the end. So your check or contract dated 1/7/20 could easily be altered to backdate it to 1/7/2019 or date it into the future as 1/7/2021.

Elizabeth Whitman of Whitman Legal Solutions talks about this in her article Will Abbreviating 2020 on Legal Documents Make You Vulnerable to Fraud?

She talks about why someone might do this, using an example of vintage violins with label changes that made the instruments older and consequently more valuable than they were. While labeling fraud on vintage musical instruments may not be something you have to worry about, she offers examples of why it might be worth your attention:

“Those who warn against abbreviating 2020 theorize that a scammer could backdate a document, such as a promissory note, to 2019. After that, the scammer could try to collect an extra year’s interest on the loan.

Commentators express similar concerns about postdating–that someone could change the date to try to cash a stale check. Or, they could try to force performance of an expired contract by make it appear that the contract was signed later than it was.”

Some say this fear might be overblown, that in prior years scammers might have altered dates on any two-digit year — but that just reinforces the importance of using a 4-digit year on written legal and financial documents – why take the risk? Whitman notes that while a consumer may be able to ultimately prove the fraud, that might entail an expenditure of time and money. Whitman says that although the risk of using an abbreviated date might be minimal, “it also doesn’t hurt to use the full year in a document signed in 2020–or in any other year.”

Her article also offers an handy list of document signature best practices, such as using a digital signature when possible, signing in blue ink, maintaining time-stamped paper copies and using dated cover letters – read more about these suggestions in her post.

Forged, altered or fake paperwork is a real thing – see our prior post on title washing scams that occur in used car purchases – a crime that costs $30 billion a year! Thieves and scammers are very creative in separating you from your money – a small step like using a 4-digit year in financial and legal documents that would make their job harder seems worth it.

Car thieves are just driving away with our cars for the darndest reason!


We’ve all misplaced our car keys at one point or another, but are people getting more forgetful?

That would appear to be the case if we review the recent report that the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) issued on car thefts. Thieves are driving away with our cars because we are making it too easy for them by leaving our keys and fobs right in the vehicles!

While car thefts in general are on a downward trend, the numbers of cars stolen due to keys in the car are on the rise. And it’s not just a slight uptick – there’s been a 56% increase since 2015 and an 88% increase since 2013!  Every single day last year, an average of more than 200 cars were stolen due to keys in the car. You can learn more in the NICB press release on thefts of vehicles with keys, along with the short video and infographic, below.

NICB keys-in-cars theft report infographic

Sometimes the keys or fobs left in the car are not due to forgetfulness – thefts spike in the winter when there are more cars being warmed up in cold weather. Beyond that, NICB doesn’t speculate as to why. It may be because they are quieter. We previously talked about how quieter, keyless cars are related to an increase in carbon monoxide deaths. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess: Too much trust in anti-theft and theft-recovery systems? An aging population of drivers? Distracted by our phones as we are powering off our cars? Hard to know.

To prevent this happening, NICB advises drivers to:

  • Lock the vehicle, set the alarm and take all keys or FOBS.
  • Do not leave the garage door opener in the vehicle.
  • Take a picture of your registration on your cell phone and do not leave the registration or other papers with personal information in the vehicle.
  • Never leave a car unlocked and running to warm it up or while stopping for a quick cup of coffee. It only takes a moment for the opportunistic thief to jump inside and drive off.

Home burglars reveal the tricks of the trade


home burglary - thief looking in door window

How do home burglars choose a home to rob? What makes it easier or harder for them to break into a home? What can homeowners do to ensure their home is not a target? To learn the answers to these questions, Portland Oregon KGW TV’s investigative team sent letters to inmates currently serving time for burglary in the Oregon Department of Corrections. Inmates were surveyed anonymously about how they broke in, when the crime occurred and what they were looking for. See: We asked 86 burglars how they broke into homes

Here’s an eye-opening video as a KGW reporter rides around a neighborhood with a former home burglar who talks about how he cased homes and commit robberies.

The linked article above is also worth reading. When asked “What is the one thing homeowners can do to avoid being burglarized?”: “Burglars suggest homeowners make their property visible with good lighting and trimmed bushes and trees. You should get to know your neighbors and alert police if you see anything suspicious.”

  • “In my opinion, I think homeowners should always leave a TV or radio on,” said one inmate.
  • “Get a camera and make it visible!” wrote another.
  • “Put bars on your windows and doors, get an alarm, keep an extra car in the driveway, keep lights, TVs and radios on when you leave your home,” read one questionnaire.
  • “Home alarm, know your neighbor so they can report suspicious people around the neighborhood,” said a burglar.

More secrets from robbers

For another brief video and tips from burglars see How do you prevent a burglary? Convicted thieves tell all – KSL in Salt Lake City.

We previously featured a post on Burglar Secrets: Expert advice on how to protect your home.. While links to the original article we cited are no longer operational, we excerpted several tips in the post. Among them,  mistakes that burglars said people often make:

  • Bragging about valuables, new purchases
  • Leaving doors and windows unlocked or garage doors open
  • Failing to enable security systems
  • Leaving valuables visible through windows
  • Leaving valuable things like bikes and riding mowers laying about in the yard
  • Having uncovered windows that allow views into the home

Talk to your insurance agent

Your home insurance company might also have good information about keeping your home safe. And if you have home security systems, you may earn a discount on your insurance policy – talk this over with your independent insurance agent.

Online purchase scams top the BBB list of 2017 consumer fraud


Mouse trap with dollars to depict online scams

Online purchase scams are now the riskiest form of consumer fraud, according to a new fraud report from the Better Business Bureau, jumping from #4 in 2016 to #1 in 2017. BBB says that online scams were most frequently related to pets, clothing, cosmetics, electronics, and automobiles. Free trials involving cosmetics or nutritional products were also common.

BBB’s top 10 scams of 2017 were:

1. Online purchase scam (up from #4 in 2016)
2. Investment scam (up from #6 in 2016)
3. Employment scam (no change)
4. Advance fee loan scam (up from #5 in 2016)
5. Fake check scam (down from #2 in 2016)
6. Home improvement scam (down from #1 in 2016)
7. Tech support scam (up from #8 in 2016)
8. Travel/vacation scam (new to top 10, #12 in 2016)
9. Family/friend emergency scam (no change)
10. Government grant scam (new to top 10, #11 in 2016)

This BBB chart shows the most common means of scammer contact. (See more charts from the report.)

One bit of good news is that although the number of reported incidents increased, the percentage of consumers who actually lost money fell from 18.8% to 15.8%, so maybe users are getting smarter about scams. One other interesting observation in the report is that young people are more susceptible to scams than older folks, but although susceptibility decreases with age, the dollar cost of the scam goes up with age.

To avoid scams, be on high alert for unconsolidated emails and phone calls. Some common tactics to trick you include:

• Deals that are too good to be true
• High pressure tactics
• Urgency – you must decide now; offer is expiring; etc.
• Threats or intimidation – you”re under investigation, you will be arrested if you don’t act now
• Isolation – trying to force a decision before you talk it over with someone else

To learn more about any of the top 10 scams of 2017, download a full copy of the 2017 BBB Scam Tracker Annual Risk Report: New Trends in Scam Risk. Also, follow BBB’s scam tips to stay up-to-date on emerging threats.

A rogue’s gallery of insurance fraudsters, 2016 style


Insurance fraud is a crime that we all pay for in the form of higher premiums for our home, auto and business insurance. However, 10% of the population still thinks that “insurance fraud doesn’t hurt anyone.” Nothing could be further from the truth! According to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, fraud steals about $80 billion a year across all lines of insurance. Yikes. And for some people, the cost is much higher than dollars and cents – if you are unlucky enough to be one of the victims of these criminals, you could lose your identity, your good credit, your life savings, or even your life.

Every year, the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud issues lists a rogue’s gallery of the worst, most egregious insurance criminals from the prior year. Recently, they named 8 criminals to the 2016 Insurance Fraud Hall of Shame. One of the purposes in publicizing the list is to educate and alert you, the consumer, about the scope and type of fraud crimes that are out there.

Here’s a sneak preview of some of their crimes to give you an idea of the severity – you can read the full stories of their crimes from the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud site.

  • Neighborhood blows up in botched insurance arson
  • Epic crash ring braked after $279-million whiplash spree
  • Lawless libido traps cheater in partner-swap comp romp
  • Oh deer! Mob associate uses deer parts to stage car wrecks
  • Samaritan scammer shotguns legs to steal disability insurance
  • Dad murders infant for $750,000 of life-insurance money
  • Bedridden girl starves to death while nurse shops
  • Doctor peddles $60 million of unneeded drugs to poor people

Reporting insurance fraud

One way to combat this type of crime is to report it. Here are some ways to do that.

 

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