Local News

Warning: Schemers Try To Cash In On Estates

Posted June 25, 2003

— Unpaid bills must be paid even after death, but what if the bill is not real?

Once a person dies, an executor is charged with finalizing the person's estate. Part of that job is paying off any debts or other bills. Some fraudulent invoices are turning up and a local attorney has a warning.

"They're simply fabricating invoices," attorney Robert Craver said.

A $84 invoice received last month from the North Carolina Helping Hands was directed to the estate of one of Craver's clients. The attorney said something did not seem quite right.

"It's so generic that it didn't give us quite enough description to know that. In fact, it looked entirely legitimate," he said.

The bill mentions only "contract services rendered." There was no phone number and only a Greensboro post office box for an address. When Craver tried to track the organization, he could not find a phone listing.

Then he received another invoice from Helping Hands for a different client.

"At that point we were absolutely certain that it was some sort of scam," Craver said.

Craver believes the people behind the scheme find their victims by searching legal notices in the classified ads. These so-called "tombstone announcements" are required by law so anyone who has a claim for money from an estate can make that claim.

The schemers find the names, then send their bills. Craver said they figure since the bill amounts are relatively small, many people will pay them without question.

"I think it's just completely bogus billing," Craver said. "They know enough about estates to know that people don't always know everything that was going on about the person that passed away."

The schemers also choose the types of services an older person might use, for example, Handyman Lawn Care Nursing.

"This would be something that would be pretty easy to slip through the cracks," Craver said. "From everything that I have seen, this organization is not credible and is completely a sham."

The "company" caught the attention of the Better Business Bureau. It has had inquiries, but has not been able to track it, either.

Helping Hands should not be confused with the Helping Hand Mission, a Raleigh charitable group.

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