Scam, Scam and More Scams – The Case of the Unexpected Inheritance Part 2

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Elder Abuse Attorney

In my last post I shared with you a situation where a person received a “scam notice” about an unexpected inheritance. There are/were several red flags that tell us it’s a scam.

The letter contained the bank’s recognizable logo. It appeared to be “off”, although I was looking at a copy of the letter. It may have been even more apparent if Mr. Jones had given me the original. The account manager’s instruction to email him at his personal email was also a clear sign this was a scam. In fact, the letter only had listed his personal email address.

Let’s take a look at the content of the letter. Mr. Jones died in a car accident without a will. It is curious to me how the account manager would know this. Bank’s don’t have any reason to inquire or know whether their clients do or do not have wills. But let’s assume that Jones didn’t have a will. What happens in that case?

Well, one thing that doesn’t happen is the bank taking it upon itself to go looking for heirs. Banks don’t check for heirs when their clients die. The account sits dormant until someone claims the funds and you can be sure the bank will require proof of entitlement to the money. If no one claims the money banks are required to turn the funds over to the state under unsatisfied claim laws. The account manager makes reference to this law in his letter.

Another clear sign that the letter is fraudulent is the account manager’s claim that he searched for Jones’ next of kin or someone with his last name, as a mere fact that having the same last name as the decedent is enough to establish a right to the money. He then makes his offer to split the money with Mr. Jones.

There is no request of proof that Mr. Jones is in fact related to the decedent or what the relationship is. Intestacy laws establish a legal process by which assets of a decedent who left no will is to be distributed. An application would need to be filed with the surrogate of the county where the deceased lived. Mr. Jones would have to establish under the law that he is entitled to the funds. The court would need to appoint an administrator to handle the estate and carry out the distributions. None of this is mentioned in the letter.

Finally, the offer of the account manager to “split” the bank account balance 50/50 is clearly inappropriate. What right would the manager have to the money? I suspect, however, that the author of the letter has figured out that enough plausible sounding statements leading up to the offer is enough to snare a few people, human nature being what it is.

But if the whole story is bogus, including the existence of a $40 million bank account, how does the account manager expect to get any money out of Mr. Jones? While we didn’t follow through and reach out to the account manager, this letter is a variation of a long running scam. I expect that the account manager would ask Mr. Jones to wire him several thousand dollars to cover the “administrative costs” of processing the claim. Perhaps the manager would agree to send him a check to reimburse Mr. Jones for the advancement. The check would be a fake check but by the time Mr. Jones learns that, he will have already wired the funds with no way of recovering the money. Fraud accomplished.

To discuss your NJ Elder Abuse matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.

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Scam, Scam and More Scams – The Case of the Promised Inheritance

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Elder Abuse Attorney

An elderly person receives a letter from the account manager of an international bank. The letter concerns one of its deceased customers who happens to have the same last name (we’ll call him Mr. Jones). The account manager says Mr. Jones died in a horrific car accident and left an account with no beneficiary upon death. Mr. Jones also died intestate, meaning he had no Last Will and Testament. Oh, yes and one more key fact, Mr. Jones had $40 million ($$$) in the bank when he died.

The account manager goes on to declare he found Mr. Jones’ contact information while searching for his next of kin and/or someone with the same last name. For the past several years the bank has been unsuccessful in finding any next of kin. The letter states that bank laws require that accounts remaining dormant for 3 years with no activity revert to the government treasury as unclaimed funds.

The account manager concludes his letter with a proposal. He would like a family member with the same last name, “Jones” to be the next of kin to claim the $40 million in the account. The letter tells the family that “since Mr. Jones is from “America” and both persons share the same last name, it’s easy to become his official next of kin.”

The letter concludes with an offer. The manager will do the work and split the account balance 50/50 with the family. He assures that everything will be handled legally in accordance with inheritance laws but it is important that the family keep this arrangement confidential and email his private email address and not contact him at the bank.

If the Jones family ever had any experience with estate administration in the past they should quickly recognize this letter as a fraud. For those who have no knowledge of the estate administration process, however, some of the statements in the letter sound reasonable and/or plausible. In my next post I’ll explain why this tale is utter nonsense and what the Jones family would likely “gain” from pursuing the account managers offer.

To discuss your NJ Elder Abuse matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.

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Race and gender bias is rampant in law, says new report that also offers tools to fight it

Women in the Law

bias interrupters

Cover page of the survey: “You Can’t Change What You Can’t See: Interrupting Racial & Gender Bias in the Legal Profession.”

A new report details the endemic bias women and minority lawyers continue to face compared to their white male counterparts, but it also offers some tools to disrupt the status quo.

“You Can’t Change What You Can’t See: Interrupting Racial & Gender Bias in the Legal Profession,” based on a 2016 survey of 2,827 in-house and firm attorneys, says current efforts to advance women and minorities have largely failed, and bias and discrimination—explicit and implicit—persist.

The survey was conducted by the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco on behalf of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession and the Minority Corporate Counsel Association.

“The implication of this report is that women and people of color have been invited into these high-stakes, high-status workplaces, like the law, but often are expected to play a very specific role,” says Joan C. Williams, a professor at Hastings and founding director of the Center for WorkLife Law. “They have to prove themselves more than white men, and are often expected to be worker bees who don’t grab the limelight or the highest compensation. And the same mistake can be more costly for a woman or person of color than the identical mistake for a white man.”

Joan Williams.

In the survey, women of color reported the highest level of bias, with 63 percent affirming they had to go “above and beyond” others in the workplace to receive the same recognition as colleagues, and 67 percent stating they were held to higher standards than colleagues. Nearly 70 percent said they were paid less than their colleagues with similar experience and seniority, compared to 36 percent of white men. White women also reported high disparities in compensation, with 60 percent responding they were paid less than similarly situated co-workers.

In contrast, 81 percent of white men felt they had equal access to high-quality assignments, and 75 percent believed they have been given fair opportunities for promotion. Study authors also note that men of color were subject to some of the same biases as women. For example, white men felt much more free to express anger at work than any other group, including minority men.

See also: Showing anger can backfire for female lawyers, studies say; law prof suggests ‘gender judo’ response

In addition to gender bias, the report also documents sexual harassment at work, a topic that’s gained awareness and national attention but continues to affect women at all levels in every industry. One quarter of female lawyers said they had encountered some form of unwelcome sexual advances or harassment at work, and 70 percent said they’ve dealt with sexist comments, stories and jokes.

The report outlines four major patterns of systemic bias in the workplace: With Prove-It-Again, women and people of color are expected to work harder than their peers to prove themselves as equal. Tightrope describes the balancing act women and minorities often perform, and the pressure to fit into a narrow range of expected conduct, such as behaving in a more feminine manner, not showing anger or aggression, and doing more administrative tasks on the job. Maternal Wall illustrates the well-documented bias against women lawyers with children. For example, white women reported the highest level of questions about their commitment or competence after having kids—36 percent higher than white men. Lastly, Tug of War describes the conflicts disadvantaged groups may have internally as a result of implicit bias in their environment.

“It confirms a lot of what we thought and some even worse,” says Jean Lee, president and CEO of the MCCA. “But certainly whenever you have research and evidence to back up what you believe about some of the challenges for women, people of color, those with disabilities, sexual orientation—it addresses concerns across the board. I hope that for institutions, it gives them something to think about.”

“None of this was a surprise to me—all of it, the good the bad and the ugly,” Lee says. “We’ve done a lot of research in different states, and this is probably one of the most groundbreaking research studies we’ve embarked on.”

The report includes a Bias Interrupters Toolkit offering incremental steps that “tweak basic business systems to produce measurable change in behaviors and outcomes” through an “evidence-based, metrics-driven” approach to interrupting bias. The research was developed for law firms and in-house departments by the Center for WorkLife Law.

“This study was envisioned several years ago, first and foremost by former commission chair Michele Coleman Mayes,” says Stephanie Scharf, chair of the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession and founding partner at Scharf Banks Marmor LLC. “This is an unusual study, and an essential study, because it pulls together a focus on metrics and a focus on practical ways to use metrics to address the problems that exist in advancing women in the profession.”

“Another part of this study that’s very important to underscore is: If at first you don’t succeed, try again, and repeat as needed,” says Scharf, who also co-chairs the ABA initiative on achieving long-term careers for women in law. “All too often employers start programs, but they don’t keep it up, sometimes because the first effort at change does not work. The focus here is when you need change, try to get it done. You may want to have pay equity—the question is how does it get done. You may not figure it out the first time around. Adjust and keep going until you reach your goal.”

“The solution is to interrupt bias in business systems so you stop constantly transmitting bias in hiring, assignments, performance evaluations,” Williams says.

Lee acknowledges that diversity work is a long process, but says the toolkit “will give you some quick tips to implement in your department or law firm. This will hopefully get the momentum started.”

ABA President Bob Carlson said in a news release that the report paints a stark picture. But “the remedies it suggests—using metrics to encourage fairness—will lead the way to better employment practices and greater diversity, which will benefit the entire legal profession and our clients.”

Updated at 2:50 p.m. to add quotes from Stephanie Scharf and Jean Lee.


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Legal industry loses jobs for second month in a row

Careers

Shutterstock.com.

The number of jobs in the legal industry has dropped for two months in a row, according to seasonally adjusted numbers released on Friday.

The industry lost 1,500 jobs in August, the American Lawyer reports. In July and August combined, the industry lost 4,200 jobs after July’s figure was revised downward by 600 jobs.

The legal services sector had 1,135,300 jobs in August, 1,136,800 jobs in July, and 1,139,500 jobs in June, according to the revised figures.

The August figures represent 200 fewer jobs than in August 2017.


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‘The Stanford Prison Experiment’ reminds us that fear of incarceration is justified

Law in Popular Culture

Prison.

As Americans, a large portion of our population has spent at least some time incarcerated. Crime, and the resulting ramifications, is something that permeates almost every family in our nation at some point or another. As a criminal defense attorney, I have spent quite a bit of time in jails, prisons, and holding facilities. To say it’s a different environment than the outside is to undersell the impact being incarcerated against one’s will has on the human psyche.

You may have heard of the Stanford Prison Experiment. I was a psychology major (before I switched to philosophy as a result of Statistics I), and the experiment was explained to me in one of my courses—perhaps as part of an ethics class. I do know the ethical implications for those involved stayed with me long after the course was completed.

THE LEGACY OF A 6-DAY STUDY

For those unfamiliar with the experiment, it took place between Aug. 14 and Aug. 20, 1971. It was conducted by psychology professor Philip Zimbardo. Zimbardo recruited students to participate in his makeshift “prison”, acting as either a prisoner or guard. The students were paid $15 per day to take on their respective roles while their actions were observed and recorded. What was originally planned to be a two-week experiment (one funded by the military, according to archived claims from Zimbardo’s website) turned into only six days of research.

Fast-forward almost 45 years. The Stanford Prison Experiment was turned into an eponymous film in 2015 and is currently streaming on Netflix. I stumbled across it as my wife and I were looking for something to pass the time. I noticed the movie’s title and asked her if she had ever heard of the experiment. She had not, so I figured the film could work as a nice backdrop for an (unrequested) impromptu explanation.

To my surprise, the film shut me up. I anticipated a low-quality festival film and nothing more. After all, it definitely wasn’t a new release, yet I had never heard about it. However, the acting was believable, the score was suitable, and the narrative was overall enjoyable. Others have agreed, as it has an 83 percent aggregate score according to Rotten Tomatoes but only a 75 percent audience score. According to an interview with the Mercury News, Zimbardo himself described the film as a “chilling, accurate re-creation of the experiment.”

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF A PRISON

From a practical perspective, I can only offer limited firsthand and secondhand accounts of actual prison life. I have dealt with the authoritarian aspect of the prison system, but I’ve been blessed to never have an extended stay. My experience has always been as an outsider on the inside: I have to visit incarcerated current and prospective clients, but I’ve always been free to leave (once a guard can make the time to let me out).

I have personally smelled the slight hint of disdain during visits. Sometimes it’s the front desk attendants that treats me negatively until they realize I’m an attorney and not a family visitor. Sometimes it’s the guard who lumps me in the same class as the incarcerated due to my role as a criminal defense attorney. I mostly let it slide off my back, because I know it’s only a temporary inconvenience.

But my clients offer another view of a system that is not temporary at all. It is perpetual. It is inescapable. It is a hopeless situation that consumes all those involved.

Many guards use this to their advantage. They are instructed to keep order, and the means to which they achieve that goal are usually proscribed by a superior. Some guards feel as though they need to exercise enough control over the prisoners to establish a cultural hierarchy, with the guards clearly placed at the top, far above the prisoners and anyone associated with them. From my own experience and those of my clients, this hierarchy is established and maintained to varying degrees based on the methods employed. Some are much more humane than others. All are employed with a specific purpose in mind.

DO OUR SOCIAL ROLES MOLD OUR BEHAVIOR?

From viewing the film and researching the study itself, it seems that this notion of creating a culture of power within the “prison” was a driving force behind the methods used in the experiment. From what I’ve gathered, Zimbardo initially claimed the sole act of putting his participants in their respective role as prisoner or guard had a dramatic effect on their psyche. As a result, the initial takeaway from the study was that the guards spontaneously became cruel as the experiment went along, supposedly as a direct result of their position in comparison to the prisoners.

However, the legitimacy of those claims has since been criticized. One “prisoner” came forward and admitted to faking his behavior and reactions while in the makeshift prison. It is telling though that he also explained that in reality, the most frightening and “shocking” aspect of the experiment was that he could not leave the jail even if he wanted to, which is the reality many actual inmates fear the most. You don’t get to leave prison. You are simply released when your time comes—if your time comes.

Additionally, others have also questioned the fact that Zimbardo and his team “coached” or pushed those acting as guards to become harsh and aggressive towards the prisoners. Depending on your perception of the experiment’s results, that is a fairly damning accusation. However, one has to remember that Zimbardo was acting as the pseudo-prison’s administrator or superintendent of sorts. He had the ultimate authority, and those beneath him followed his lead.

Zimbardo seems to acknowledge that the study was more of a “demonstration” than a typical “experiment” in the conventional sense. Either way, it’s important to contemplate what the staged circumstances demonstrate about the system they tried to replicate and the mechanisms that can influence it.

DOES ABSOLUTE POWER CORRUPT ABSOLUTELY?

History is wrought with examples of individuals abandoning their humanity as a result of their belief in a cause—especially when that cause is led by an authoritarian figure.

If Zimbardo hoped to show that simply placing a person in a specific social role—and nothing else—can completely transform that individual, then his experiment likely failed. There is too long a paper/audio trail to dispute the fact that participants in the experiment were coached and actively tried to adopt their given role for the better good of the study as a whole.

However, those criticizing the experiment based on the recent revelations that some of the participants “played up” their respective roles are missing the point. Those who criticize the study’s validity because of Zimbardo’s influence and impact on the participants behavior don’t understand the real-world correlation.

I’ve personally represented multiple former prison guards and correctional officers. I’ve talked with them in detail. The explanation is always the same: There is a culture everyone is expected to adhere to, and everything comes from the top down. If you buck the trend, it will not go well. Every prison, jail, detention center—whatever you would like to call the facilities—has a head of operations. There is always a boss, and what the boss says goes. People will act differently if they are given the OK. This is especially true when they believe in what they are doing, which some do.

Most people don’t become correctional officers or prison guards for the fun of it. When given an option on employment, most would likely shy away from the prospects of working in a high-stress, high-danger environment where others are apt to distrust them, despise them, and maybe even throw a bit of bodily fluid their way.

Those who do take on the occupation surely don’t do it for the pay. Here in Oklahoma, I recently observed a sign outside a “justice center” advertising starting pay at $12 per hour for county jail guards. Hell, prospects can easily make just as much or more working at 7-Eleven.

I would argue that most individuals who enter this line of work have a predisposition to the occupational demands. They want to be in control. They want to achieve that control, even if they aren’t likely paid appropriately for the hazards they face. If the desire is that strong, it could potentially leave them open to certain suggestions others might offer to better achieve that goal.

People can be put into tough situations on both sides (guard and prisoner). Prison is not supposed to be fun, and it’s not supposed to be enjoyable, but it is supposed to be humane. The idea of humanity is relative to some (see Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff and would-be politician who created a tent city jail and forced inmates to wear pink) even though it shouldn’t be. The Stanford Prison Experiment, and the study it is based on, show what can arise when goal-oriented people are given the OK to act a certain way in order to achieve a certain goal.

The study as a whole can be viewed as a glimpse into the mind of an authoritarian prison administrator. These individuals must lead by example, and they have to promote the correct behavior within their staff. Otherwise, the participants can take on devious traits and inhumane perspectives while working toward a common goal. Our country wants to believe that the prison system as a whole is rehabilitative. We want to believe incarceration is more than simply punishment: that there are “correctional” facilities, that there are “justice centers.” At the end of the day, though, if you aren’t free to leave, it’s a prison. Prisons that are run by people—people with a job to do. Some do it well, and some do it worse. We have to hope that these facilities are run by the right people.


Adam Banner

Adam R. Banner is the founder and lead attorney at the Oklahoma Legal Group, a criminal defense law firm in Oklahoma City. Mr. Banner’s practice focuses solely on state and federal criminal defense. He represents the accused against allegations of sex crimes, violent crimes, drug crimes, and white collar crimes.

The study of law isn’t for everyone, yet its practice and procedure seems to permeate pop culture at an increasing rate. This column is about the intersection of law and pop culture in an attempt to separate the real from the ridiculous.


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