No Joke: Endemic Pessimism May Be Killing Us
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TBT: Fraud is So Much More Efficient These Days

The Bogus Estate 162783_1786164851184_3075644_n

By WILLIAM L. TAFT

A new type of racket, in which attorneys play a key although completely innocent part, has recently been uncovered by several of my lawyer acquaintances. The plan involves plausible facts and is of such a nature that, even though suspicions may be aroused immediately, the same are likewise allayed because no particular harm can be foreseen. The cautious natures and capabilities of the attorneys involved indicate the scheme can be worked very easily upon any lawyer. It follows these general lines:

A young, well-dressed couple visit the attorney about 9:00 a.m. and request his assistance in probating the estate of the husband's deceased brother. According to the husband, his brother
died in Portland, Maine, leaving the 
bulk of his estate in that jurisdiction. 
That fact is verified by a purported true
 copy of excerpts of the documents filed
in the estate, among which is the inventory. This latter indicates a sizeable 
estate of six figures, including two 
apartment houses, high-value corporate
 stock, etc. The matter having arisen 
suddenly, the husband states that he
 must conclude pressing business matters which precludes any immediate lengthy consultation. Making an appointment for the following day, and leaving the documents for examination, the visitors depart. That afternoon a telephone call is received in the attorney's office, the caller inquiring about the estate. The secretary verifies the visit, but, naturally, indicates her inability to disclose the nature thereof. The caller implies he is making a loan on the basis of the inheritance. When informed of the call, the attorney notes the same for discussion with the new clients the next day.

On the following day, while waiting for the couple to arrive, the attorney examines the documents left with him and observes a few discrepancies. Becoming apprehensive because of the telephone call on the preceding day, and because of the failure of the new clients to return, the logically suspicious attorney decides to visit the address furnished by the couple, and is on his way. Upon arrival, he perceives a lot as vacant as the proverbial sophomore's head. At once he returns to his office and swings into action by calling the Probate Court at Portland, Maine. He is informed that many inquiries have been received in regard to the estate, that it is non-existent and that the whole matter is obviously a hoax. Naturally, the couple never returns. It is speculation, of course, since no known complaints were ever made, but, knowing the propensities of the ordinary layman and, especially since the visit with an attorney of excellent reputation in the community was verified, the general conclusion is that the loan was made. I wonder what the interest rate was! 

Photograph, 1951: Not the fraudulent couple, but my aunt, Janet Lewis Hoffmann, and her husband, Jack Hoffmann, in 1951. Both were well-known photographic models in that era. 

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