What is this scam
August 23, 2017 12:34 PM   Subscribe

My parents and I keep getting calls from a 'company' stating they can help us access funds from the sale of a property we have in trust, in exchange for a cut. They won't stop calling. I don't even understand their scam. Can you help?

A couple years ago my elderly parents put their house into a trust that I am also a trustee of. A few weeks ago my dad (who has some cognitive impairment from a stroke) got a call from someone saying that there was an auction of the land in the name of our family trust, and that the trust is owed money for this auction, and that he would helpfully recover the money if we agreed to give him a cut.

I called the guy back and told him to stop calling. He's called many times since then, both me and my parents. My mom has Alzheimer and last time he actually got her on the phone which was scary. I have told him to stop calling, that he is harassing us, etc, but he and his boss (?) persist. They have a company website and their apparent business model is to research unclaimed auction funds and cold call people about it. I was able to google the name of the owner of this 'company' and also have the name of the initial guy who called us.

When I talked to him yesterday, I got the lot number and supposed auction date. The parcel number is not even the right one for my parents house. So possibly, they are just wrong about this property and think we own something we don't. Or possibly there is some other scam at work here?

Even if they have a semi-legitimate business, the aggressive and repetitive calls after being asked to stop calling sucks.

At this point in history, regulatory bodies being gutted as they are, I'm not sure who I would report this to, but FWIW my parents are in Sacramento, CA, the caller is calling from LA, and the boss/parent 'company' is supposedly in NY.

I have called the Sacramento county assessor and they have told me there are no unclaimed assets on the parcel where my parents home is, nor is there a record of an auction.

But my questions are: what are they actually doing, is it a scam, and who can I report it to?
posted by latkes to Law & Government (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The Sacramento County District Attorney's office has a page with some resources that should be of interest, including contact information for Adult Protective Services, who appear to be the relevant point of contact in your parents' area.

From a practical standpoint, even if they are more-or-less legit (if skeezy) and simply mistaken about the property, get the numbers they're calling from and call your phone provider(s) to have a call block put in place.
posted by LadyInWaiting at 12:57 PM on August 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

It's almost certainly a scam. They'd probably next ask you to cover "costs" of the "recovery."

Report to the California attorney general. They won't act on an individual basis but they may open an investigation. (It's not actually a company incorporated in NY.)

In the meantime, can you block their numbers on your parents' phones?
posted by praemunire at 12:57 PM on August 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Are you on the Do Not Call list? You are probably owed money, which you will never collect, but you can use it as a threat to make them stop calling. Also complain to the phone company, the PUC and the attorney general's office.
posted by theora55 at 1:14 PM on August 23, 2017

In addition to the above advice:

1. Do you have Conservatorships/Guardianships over your parents? You say your mother has Dementia, and your father has "cognitive impairment," but do you have documents stating that, as of today (or some time ago) that they do not have the legal capacity to contract? If you do not, I urge that you try and do so (especially if your parents are willing, and you live close by). It is vastly easier to undo improper transactions with this sort of information, rather than trying to get doctors to say that, on DATE in the past, Mr. and/or Mrs. praemunire was not able to act of their own volition. See a Wills and Estates Lawyer, probably whomever put together your parents' trust.

2. Have you actually investigated the property rolls for your Parents' property? Go here to do so. Relying on these jokers for the proper information could put you in a bad position in the future. (c.f., the couple that bought that HOA common area in San Francisco, one of the really important points of that story is that they waited 2 years before revealing that they bought it, because undoing transactions after the passage of time is really difficult.)

3. Please do not engage these people. Next time, please do not call them back. Block their number. Hang up when they call. Provide no information. Provide no feedback. "Hello, I'm from Unclaim--"*Click*.

4. Regarding reporting, you may consider seeing if the California State Controller has a reporting procedure.

Good luck!
posted by China Grover at 1:15 PM on August 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

I don't presume to know what's going on here, but my biggest fear would be that, if they could get your parents to agree, it would turn out that they'd agreed to sell the property at a private auction which would be won for a pittance by someone with a hidden connection to the company, and your parents, or the trust, would get a cut of that.
posted by jamjam at 1:41 PM on August 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Do your parents use cell phones or a landline? I would at a minimum block these numbers for them. I have access to my mom's Time Warner/Spectrum account and I block numbers for her, add special rings for any of her kids' phone numbers so when the phone rings she knows its us, etc. I also have an app on my mom's cell phone called Team Viewer so I can control her cell phone from my computer and fix things for her. You can also block unlisted/private callers entirely, if you wish.

My guess is maybe this works like unclaimed property scams, where they ask you to pay costs upfront.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:41 PM on August 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

IMO the best way to block a specific number is *60. Follow the prompts to add the offending number to the "call screening" list. Once you do, you'll never receive a call from that number again, while they hear only a fast busy signal. It's quite possible that I am the very last person to this party and everyone else already knows about *60. In which case, pardon my ignorance.
posted by DrGail at 2:37 PM on August 23, 2017

Last time I checked about call blocking (which was, admittedly, many years ago), I was told it didn't apply to numbers outside of the local area. Googling today says that seems to be no longer the case, but there is no reliable "just block X number" that works on cellphones... each kind of hardware, and each phone service, has different options available.

Since you have a web page for them and something resembling contact info, I recommend telling them you'll be sending them a bill for the phone minutes they're using, plus administrative costs.

If they call again, go ahead and write up a bill. Send it. Wait for them not to pay. Take them to small claims court; get ruling; send them that. You won't get any money for it, but you'll scramble their credit rating.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:59 PM on August 23, 2017

You should be able to google "[your state] unclaimed property" and find out which agency would administer such a thing, and if your parents genuinely are owed funds for something, you can bypass these types of scam artists and collect it directly. We've gotten calls like these over the years and checked with the state directly and ended up with small amounts from class action suits and the like.
posted by padraigin at 5:42 PM on August 23, 2017

Are you on the Do Not Call list? You are probably owed money, which you will never collect, but you can use it as a threat to make them stop calling. Also complain to the phone company, the PUC and the attorney general's office.

And if you get mad enough at them, you can take them to small claims court over the Do Not Call violations, get a judgment, get a writ of execution when they fail to pay, and then get the LA County Sheriff to seize their property to pay off the judgment.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 5:55 PM on August 23, 2017

Absolutely contact your state attorney general, they usually have a couple of employees dedicated to nothing but suing phone harassers on behalf of the state's citizens. (Sometimes just for filling out the complaint form you get a $50 check when the company gets fined!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:22 PM on August 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

It could be a legit business. If they are legit, they'll want a percentage (10-15% is fair as a finder's fee, but I don't know what they'd ask for), but A) there's no need to work with them if their tactics put you off, of course, and B) if any such business asks for money up front, to settle fees or remove obstacles, you immediately cut contact.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:18 PM on August 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Cold call scams with fake (spoofed) phone numbers are becoming much more common now. I get 2-3 a week.

The "do not call" list doesn't matter in that case because scammers are already breaking the law. If you are worried about your parents being scammed, make a rule that they never answer the phone unless it's someone they know.
posted by thelastpolarbear at 3:35 AM on August 24, 2017

These services are quasi-legit. I know someone who fell for one. The service took a 50% finder's fee. The person to whom the money was owed could have gotten the entire amount simply by searching the state's unclaimed property site and filing a claim online.

Do that first. These services deal in volume, they aren't doing deep investigations. At the surface level the state may very well say you have unclaimed property even if that turns out to be incorrect. Look into that and either claim the money or ask the state to correct the record; if they do I bet the calls stop entirely.

I would also send a certified letter to the service demanding that the calls stop. You might mention that your parents lack the mental capacity to enter into a contract.
posted by mama casserole at 5:46 AM on August 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OK so far I've reported to the state controller (they wrote back that they don't investigate this kind of thing) and to the Sacramento attorney general. I am on hold with Sacramento Adult Protective Services right now.

My folks take these calls on their landline so I'm not sure about call blocking but I can try when I'm up there next. I'll also add them to the Do Not Call list if they've fallen off.

Fortunately we do have legal stuff squared away so their impairments are documented and I can act on their behalf already. Also, I've established with the county my parents are owed no money and do not own the parcel number these folks keep calling about anyway.

posted by latkes at 11:53 AM on August 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

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