By William H. (Kim) Kimbrough, Jr., J.D., LL.M.
Frauds aimed at older adults are becoming more creative. Scammers stay on top of whatever is new, such as the popularity of Zoom, COVID-19 vaccines, and online shopping, and then move fast to create ploys that best fit the moment. They also capitalize on the availability of public information to bilk unsuspecting seniors.
It's not just vulnerable older shut-ins who are targeted. Everyone is--even me. That's why I wanted to give you a glimpse of two scam letters I received recently.
Car Warranty Scam
If you own a car, you've probably received a letter like this. You may have also received a robocall about your car warranty. It works like this: A scammer masquerading as a legitimate company, such as a car dealer or insurer, writes or calls you to let you know your car warranty is due to expire. The scammer then offers you an extended warranty and asks for your personal information to draw up a vehicle service contract.
What if you take the bait and buy a plan? You probably won’t realize it was all a scam until weeks or months later when you have a problem with your car and discover that the warranty doesn’t exist.
This scam isn’t new, but it has reached new heights. The Federal Communications Commission says auto warranty robocalls were the top call complaint filed by consumers in 2020, and the trend is continuing this year. You can bet these crooks are taking home a ton of money or they wouldn’t use this tactic.
If you get a letter like this, throw it away. If you get a robocall, hang up. If you happen to answer the phone and realize that it's one of these scammers, there is one thing you should never do: press any numbers on your phone during the call. This confirms you have a working number, and you will receive even more calls.
If you are concerned that your car’s express warranty is about to expire, your best bet is to check with the manufacturer.
Recorded Deed Scam
In this scheme, the homeowner receives an official-looking document in the mail like the one I got. The document is titled “Recorded Deed Notice.” It looks alarmingly official, with purchase or transfer dates, document numbers, land value identification, the legal property address, a description of the property zones, and the property identification number.
There’s a payment slip at the bottom. The recipient is directed to detach and mail the payment slip with a "Document Fee" of, in this case, $95 by a deadline.
Read the fine print on these notices and you’ll see that these organizations are not affiliated, approved, or endorsed by any government agency. But that information doesn’t stop nervous property owners from sending money because the document looks so official. If you make it to the end of the document, you’ll find a statement that goes something like this: "This is a solicitation; you are under no obligation to pay the amount stated, unless you accept this offer."
That’s the tip-off. It's a scam!
How can fraud like this happen? It’s really quite easy. Documentation of deeds and mortgages are public records that every county Register of Deeds must maintain. Scammers copy property owners’ names and addresses from these records, and then send the notices. Their goal is to get unsuspecting homeowners to pay for information that they already have or don’t even need.
Property deeds are a matter of public record, and you can get a copy of yours for next to nothing. Letter or legal-sized copies of deeds are available for less than 25 cents per copy from your local Register of Deeds. You should never, ever have to pay more for a document that you can get for less than a quarter.
If you or an elderly loved one get scam letters like these, notify your local law enforcement office.
William H. (Kim) Kimbrough, Jr., J.D., LL.M. is attorney and founder of Kimbrough Law, a Life Care Planning Law Firm with offices in Athens and Gainesville, Georgia.