How to Handle a “Virtual Kidnapping’ Phone Call

You answer a phone call. Your caller ID shows the phone number of your grandchild. An unfamiliar voice tells you they will kill your grandchild unless you send them money immediately. In the background, you hear muffled cries and screams. The caller instructs you to send payments via a mobile app that allows peer-to-peer (P2P) funds transfers, like Zelle or Venmo. This call is almost certainly a scam.

The FBI offers advice on how to handle a “virtual kidnapping” phone call. If you get a phone call in which someone demands money from you to ransom someone, they claim to have kidnapped, the FBI advises you to:

  • Stay calm and under control. In the panic of the moment, you might blurt out personal information the caller can use to further the scam. Slow down the pace of the conversation.
  • Insist upon speaking directly with the allegedly kidnapped person. If the caller hesitates, say you do not know if the person is okay, unless you talk to him or her.
  • Request the victim call you back using his own cell phone.
  • If you can get the kidnapped person on the phone, ask questions to which only he would know the answers. Make sure the responses are not details that someone could learn from your social media postings.
  • If the caller refuses to let you speak with the alleged victim, ask the caller to tell you the kind of car the victim drives.
  • While you engage the caller with these things, try to reach the alleged victim through social media or by calling or texting from another phone.
  • If the caller tries to rush you, speak slowly and steadily. Say you need time to find paper and a pen and to write down the information.
  • Do not argue with the caller, but do not automatically send the money. Do your best to locate the whereabouts of the allegedly kidnapped person. Nearly every time, the supposed kidnapping victim is safe and sound, blissfully unaware of the terrifying scam.

Scammers sometimes use Caller ID spoofing to make you think the phone call is from someone you know or a trusted number. Some brazen con artists even spoof the FBI’s phone number to call people and demand personal information or money. Although fake kidnapping scams have been around for 20 years or more, the FBI says these crimes are on the rise. Today’s cell phone and mobile banking technology make these cons easier to perpetrate.

If you fall victim to a “virtual kidnapping” scam, you should alert law enforcement immediately. Make sure they write a police report and give you a copy. You should also, notify your bank, mobile payment app, credit card company, or whatever entity you used to send the payment. Sometimes people can cancel the cash transfers or get at least some of their money back. The police report will back up your claim the money went to a scam. The more sophisticated the criminals get, the more on guard people need to be to avoid being victimized by fraudsters.


AARP. “’Virtual Kidnapping’ Terrorizes People Across the U.S.” (accessed December 5, 2019)


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How to Protect Your Own Retirement and Assets From Spendthrift Parents

Denise Clark was flabbergasted and not without reason. Her mother wanted her children to buy her a brand new car and expensive birthday gifts for extended members of the family. Her mother thought nothing of asking for several hundreds of dollars each month from each of them to maintain her lifestyle. The Clarks are not the only family facing this issue, as reported in “How to Support Your Retired Parents Without Sinking Your Own Retirement Plans” from Money. A study from TD Ameritrade found that 13% of Americans are supporting a parent, including 19% of millennials.

This particular mother may have to find another money tree to shake. Clark doesn’t want to turn over the funds that she has saved over time, by careful budgeting to a parent who has a history of living beyond her means. All of the siblings have worked hard to attain financial security, devoting decades to building healthy nest eggs.

How can this family and others help aging parents, without sacrificing their own retirement or financial security?

Set boundaries, and stick to them. The role reversal of a child setting limits with a parent makes this a challenging set up, but it’s critical for the child to say no. The last thing you want is to go broke helping an elderly parent, and then finding yourself in the same situation with your own children years from now.

Address harmful money habits straight on. Spending as a hobby may be a symptom of depression or boredom. If that’s the situation, discuss it and consider getting the help of a professional counselor.

Don’t give cash directly to the person. If you can help out with small expenses and don’t want the money to be lost, pay a bill for them. The bill will be paid and the money won’t go elsewhere.

Try an approach of collaboration. Ask for their help in figuring out their financial future. Be encouraging, without scolding. If you’ve never talked about money, then be patient. It may take a while for them to accept your input, even if they are all too eager to accept financial gifts.

Check out government support programs. The Medicare Savings Program can help low-income seniors, who also qualify for Medicaid, afford a Medicare prescription plan. HUD runs a number of housing plans, although wait lists are often long.

If housing costs are a problem, look to alternatives. Are they willing to take on a roommate or two? The added rent money and socialization could alleviate some issues, although you have to be careful about who lives with your parent. A “Golden Girls” living situation might work.

Don’t overlook filing for bankruptcy. If their credit card debt, medical bills or underwater mortgage are overwhelming, bankruptcy might be a welcome relief.

Finally, if your own financial situation permits, consider setting up a trust with an estate planning attorney to benefit your aging parents. Inside a revocable living trust, a certain percentage of money or a set dollar amount can be distributed on a controlled basis, with a trustee who can be given the discretion to decide when assets should be distributed. If there are gambling or other abuse problems, restrictions should be built into the trust.

Reference: Money (December 3, 2019) “How to Support Your Retired Parents Without Sinking Your Own Retirement Plans”


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Financial Issues To Consider Before Marrying Again

With increased longevity comes more time for romance, which is a happy event for seniors. However, what can you expect if you decide to go ahead and marry again? It’s a little more complicated this time around, says Delco Times in the article that asks “Does it make financial sense to marry a second time?”

There may be issues from religious or personal beliefs. There may be challenges from family members, and concerns about the financial realities of a later-in-life marriage. There are definitely legal issues that need to be considered. Make sure to have good legal and financial advice, so that both members of the couple are making an informed decision.

Before making a decision about marriage, have a thorough discussion about finances. Are you financial equals, or does one of you have far more assets than the other? Is one of you mired in debt? Be extremely clear and honest about assets, liabilities credit card debt, outstanding loans and any financial obligations.

Are both people open to having a pre or post-nuptial agreement? If you have established a business or accumulated assets in your own name, you’ll want to be very clear about who will own what in the event of a divorce or when death occurs. If you have children from a prior marriage, how will you protect them, if you should die before your new spouse? With trusts, you can provide for the surviving spouse but then have the remaining assets pass to your own children after the second death.

Note that marriage does not signal an end to written agreements, which can be revised as the need arises. However, if someone refuses to sign a pre-nup, don’t count on your powers of persuasion to be convince them to sign a post-nup. By then, it may be too late.

As for health care costs, that is a real consideration for later-in-life marriages. The government does not recognize a pre- or post-nup agreement, when it comes to Medicaid rules. There are some protections for spouses, but once you marry, one of you needing to apply for Medicaid has to be considered.

There are some advantages to being married, if one of the spouses has healthcare insurance through work or through a retirement plan. If a new spouse has benefits through their service, the new spouse may have access to veteran’s benefits. Transferring a 401(k) or IRA to a spouse is also much preferred than to a non-spousal beneficiary.

Bear in mind though that if you have benefits from a prior marriage, like alimony or pension payments, you may lose those by remarriage. Social Security benefits under a deceased spouse’s benefit may end, if you remarry before age 60. Remarriage after age 60 does not impact surviving spouse benefits.

Talk to your estate planning attorney before getting married about protecting yourself and your children. It will be time well spent. If all goes well, there won’t be any drama.  If there is drama, iti is better to know about it before you say “I do.”

Reference: Delco Times (October 16, 2019) “Does it make financial sense to marry a second time?”


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