18 Apr

Protecting Yourself From Real Estate Fraud

No industry is immune to fraud schemes. Mortgage fraud and real estate fraud have been problems for a long time. Ups and downs in the real estate market can make developers desperate and may push them to engage in fraud in an attempt to keep their projects afloat.

Frauds related to real estate are often costly. The bigger the project, the more risk there is of fraud. What can those involved in real estate deals do to minimize their risk of fraud?

Use licensed professionals.
Whether we’re talking about a mortgage broker, a plumber, or a contractor, it is critical to do business with licensed professionals. The license itself doesn’t guarantee that the person is competent or ethical. But it provides at least a minimal level of confidence in the person or business. Consider the license to be a tool that weeds out the worst in the field.

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10 Apr

Alternative Sources of Financial Information in Divorce

Everyone knows about the typical sources of financial information in divorces. Income tax returns, bank statements and related documents, brokerage statements, credit card statements, and business financial statements are some of the most common.

There are alternative sources of financial information that can be incredibly helpful in divorce cases, however. They are helpful because they can refute or support claims being made by one party about income and assets. They are particularly helpful because often, the other side isn’t prepared for these documents to become part of the divorce case. Read More

08 Apr

Social Media Influencers and Fraud

Promoting products and services via social media sites like Instagram and Facebook is big business. If you have hundreds of thousands (or millions!) of followers on Instagram, someone is probably willing to pay you to have you promote their products. There are lots of eyeballs looking at your posts, and that’s worth money. And so we call you a social media influencer.

But the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has rules about that.  If you’re promoting a product, it better be obvious to everyone that this is  the case.  More specifically, the FTC says:

In addition, the Guides say, if there’s a connection between an endorser and the marketer that consumers would not expect and it would affect how consumers evaluate the endorsement, that connection should be disclosed. For example, if an ad features an endorser who’s a relative or employee of the marketer, the ad is misleading unless the connection is made clear. The same is usually true if the endorser has been paid or given something of value to tout the product. The reason is obvious: Knowing about the connection is important information for anyone evaluating the endorsement.

And naturally, the rules are being ignored by lots of people. It is estimated that only about 25% of influencers are actually following the rules when it comes to sponsored content.

If someone is being paid to promote a product or service on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or some other social media site, they’re required to disclose it. If they don’t, that is fraud. Concealing the fact that a post is essentially advertising is dishonest because people may think you’re simply talking about something you like rather than talking about something you’re paid to talk about. Consumers need to know that you’re making a PAID endorsement.

Truth in Advertising (TINA) has been going after abusers of the rules, filing complaints with the FTC about this behavior. Sean “Diddy” Combs was on the receiving end of one of these complaints, and quickly deleted the hundreds of posts in question.

Keep an eye out for social media posts that seem to casually mention a product or service the celebrity uses. Chances are, the post has been paid for by someone and it’s nothing more than advertising.

28 Mar

Second Edition of Lifestyle Analysis in Divorce

Exchanging books with family lawyer Randy Kessler in 2016.

The American Bar Association has asked me to write the second edition of Lifestyle Analysis in Divorce Cases: Investigating Spending and Finding Hidden Income and Assets. It was (and still is) the only book on the market that details how to do a lifestyle analysis and how to use the results.

I do lifestyle analysis in very high net worth divorce cases, and the results are used to determine standard of living (which then helps calculate support), find sources of hidden income, and find hidden assets. Read More

26 Mar

Determining Income Using the Net Worth Method of Proof in a Divorce Case

iStock_000019355019XSmallHow can income be calculated in a divorce case when a spouse refuses to produce documentation or is suspected of concealing sources of income? One way is through the Net Worth Method of Proof, which is used to analyze income and assets when detailed documentation is not available, either because the opposing spouse is obstructing efforts to get data and documents, or because data and documents are legitimately not available.

This method of determining income is used by the federal government in criminal income tax cases. Because it is accepted in federal criminal cases, family courts often will accept this as a reliable method for calculating income.

A detailed analysis of expenditures is performed using any documentation available. Each expenditure for the period under review is captured from bank, brokerage, and credit card statements, and each item is categorized so that totals can be accumulated for the period under analysis. Read More

25 Mar

Internet Dating Scams

There’s no shortage of fraud surrounding dating these days, especially with online dating. It seems like such a great way to meet people with similar interests. Get on a dating site, they said. It’ll be fun they said. Until you find out the person you’ve been chatting with is nothing like they portrayed themselves to be.

Internet dating cost this woman $273,000.

A woman named Yin signed up for a six month membership with match.com. And she got catfished by someone using pictures of a U.S. Marine.  He told her his name was David Perez he was deployed in Afghanistan, and they exchanged a bunch of text messages.

They “fell in love” over text messages. He told her to keep things a secret because her friends would be jealous.

After 5 weeks, Yin’s online “love” asked her for money.  There was a big story about a secret mission in Afghanistan, a military attorney, a non-existent company in London, and a Chinese bank. She sent money totaling over $273,000. Read More

21 Mar

How to Avoid Business Opportunity Frauds and MLM Scams

In a past appearance on CNBC’s On the Money, Tracy Coenen talked about how consumers could protect themselves from business opportunity scams and multi-level marketing (MLM) schemes. MLMs parade themselves around as business opportunities, but they are nothing more than elaborate pyramid schemes that swindle millions of consumers each year.

14 Mar

LuLaRoe Pyramid Scheme Lawsuit

And there is  another lawsuit against LuLaRoe. The  MLM  that sells leggings of questionable taste appears on the verge of collapse. A lawsuit filed in 2018 by Providence, a company that supplied LLR with goods first demanded $49 million. More recently, Providence says it is owed $63 million and it wants the court to seize $34 million in assets since owners Mark and DeAnne Stidham are a flight risk. And then the state of Washington sued LLR, alleging it is a pyramid scheme:

“LuLaRoe tricked consumers into buying into its pyramid scheme with deceptive claims of high profits and refunds for unsold merchandise,” Ferguson said in a news release. “Instead, many Washingtonians lost money and were left with piles of unsold merchandise and broken promises from LuLaRoe. It’s time to hold LuLaRoe accountable for its deception.”

The newest lawsuit was filed this month by plaintiffs Tabitha Sperring, Paislie Marchant, and Sally Poston. The lawsuit sums up the scam (coincidentally or not in language that sounds an awful lot like things I’ve written here): Read More