Fox Rothschild LLP

These are difficult times.  Some parts of the economy have responded well to the pandemic crisis.  Others, especially those in the travel, leisure, and entertainment industries have experienced enormous financial challenges.  Sadly, this sometimes prompts desperate measures.  You should not become an unwary victim of desperate measures.  You are the best person to protect yourself from that.

Yesterday, a local attorney in suburban Philadelphia pleaded guilty to falsifying credit applications using the names and personal financial data of his wife and mother-in-law to tap an estimated $85,000 of credit, which he spent for his own amusement.  He had recently been convicted of taking roughly $90,000 in client money for similar purposes.  He will be sentenced for these crimes next month.  The crimes go back several years.  They are not related to the current economic crisis, thereby proving once again that crime can happen in good times.  However, desperate times (and many Americans are in desperate times) often trigger people to resort to desperate measures.  History has taught us that many times, the first draw on another person’s funds or credit is accompanied by the desire, indeed the expectation, that the taker will “make good” on the borrow.

The second lesson here is that certain vital information like birthdates, social security numbers, even telephone numbers and credit card data can permit theft as easily as the proverbial unlocked door.  In this case, the lawyer acted as his spouse and mother-in-law to open new accounts they never knew about at the time.  Yes, they are victims, and probably will secure release from these debts.  But, the stain of bad credit travels faster than a good reputation and it makes future borrowing a steep uphill climb.

A few years ago the judicial system embarked on a program to demand that documents filed in court be cleansed of data that could be used to steal.  The program is reasonably effective, although many attorneys forget to obliterate things like full account statements and social security numbers from documents filed with the court.  You can help with that process as well by taking action to remove/redact that data before you hand it to your attorney.  Realize that some of those digits need to be preserved because you may have four different accounts with a bank or a brokerage and they need to be distinguished.  Nevertheless, with rare exceptions, lawyers, their staff, judicial officers and the like do not need all of the numbers.  On those rare occasions when they are required, consider providing the information in separate communications.

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