5 scary paths that lead to damaging debt

'Helpers' from hell
'Helpers' from hell © auremar/

They arrive like angels at the most vulnerable moments -- after a divorce or death of a spouse. But these "helpers" are actually not looking after you at all, says Mela Garber, a tax principal at Anchin, Block & Anchin in New York.

"This is the scariest financial scenario I've observed in my 30 years of work," Garber says.

The scheme works like this: A recently divorced or widowed woman (it can happen to men, but it is primarily women who have not handled finances before) is approached by a charming and kindly stranger who has ideas to help her overcome her grief and solve her financial worries, Garber says.

The con involves showering the victim with attention when she is at her most vulnerable, she says. But the warning signs are there: The con artist runs into financial difficulty and the victim feels obligated to pay, jeopardizing their own debt situation. "As the person moves closer to the victim, he gains more control of her finances," Garber says.

Garber warns that this kind of con can happen at any wealth level. "When someone new comes into your life when you are vulnerable because of a death or divorce, you need to be alert and suspicious," she says.


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