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December 2014 Archives

Michigan Leads Country in Number of Veterans Treatment Courts

In 2012, Michigan had just six veterans treatment courts. Today, that number has more than tripled to twenty, and Michigan leads the country in the number of veterans treatment courts.

These courts are a type of “problem-solving court,” which are courts tailored to a specific population of people or addressing a certain realm of issues. The veterans’ treatment courts use a hybrid of drug court and mental health court principles to serve military and veterans, as well as active-duty personnel.

This past Veterans Day, Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert P. Young, Jr. praised the growth of these courts: “Veterans treatment courts are growing because they are working. Today, we are seeing firsthand that this initiative is saving lives and strengthening communities by helping veterans rebuild productive lives with their families.”

These courts promote sobriety, recovery, and stability to help veterans deal with serious problems of addiction, mental illnesses, and other disorders. Through a coordinated response that involves collaboration with the Veterans Affairs health care networks, Veterans Benefits Administration, the state DAV, and volunteer mentors and organizations that support veterans and their families, these courts are able to steer veterans clear of jail or prison time.

Indeed, these programs have helped veterans turn their lives around, avoid costly incarceration, and help reintegrate veterans into their communities and families. The program is a part of the state Supreme Court’s broader mission to help local trial courts implement best practices that improve service to the public. Michigan currently has 174 problem-solving courts that reach a reported 97% of Michiganders.

In November, the Michigan Supreme Court held a Veterans Treatment Court Forum, which brought together judges, administrators, mentors, and veteran graduates of these programs. Workshops were held to discuss the issues veterans face and the resources needed for these courts to properly address those issues – suicide prevention, online veterans assistance programs, and recruiting veteran mentors to be vital line of support for people in the program.

“Military veterans accused of crimes often present unique issues related to their military service,” said Judge Richard Bell, who presides over the Ingham County Veterans Treatment Court. “The veterans treatment court is able to bring a variety of resources to the issues presented by the veteran charged with a crime, and more often than not is able to redirect the veteran into the adoption of a positive lifestyle.”

In a year where good news for veterans has been at a shortage, at least Michigan veterans and their families can look to the growth of these courts as a positive. These courts offer the opportunity to address the underlying issues common to veterans. While it may be unfortunate circumstances that lead a veteran to these courts, veterans can count on these programs to give them a great opportunity to be reintegrated with their families and communities.

If you are a veteran and have criminal misdemeanor issues or VA disability issues, contact us for assistance.

Fraudsters Now Impersonating Big Name Stores to Trick Shoppers, Online Retailers

Mark Mandell, Esq.

For everyone that read our last post on avoiding the holiday shopping scams and protecting your financial information, I strongly encourage you to read this Detroit Free Press article on the most recent trend for fraudsters: impersonating big name stores like WalMart, Target, Home Depot, and others.

If your credit card was compromised during the recent data breaches at those big name retailers, your credit card number has probably changed by now. However, such cyber-attacks have left consumers emails, and potentially phone numbers, susceptible to hackers.

And those emails and phone numbers probably have not changed since the data breaches. (You don’t have to change your email, but changing your password every once and a while can help avoid hacks).

These hackers may already know where you shop, and if you shop online with a work email, they probably can figure out where you work, too. This information allows the scams to sound more legitimate – the Better Business Bureau has even received reports of fraudulent emails sent by scammers impersonating big names like WalMart Target, Home Depot, Costco, and Amazon.

One recent example from last month was the “pizza scam,” in which hackers sent an email under the guise of Pizza Hut asking consumers to take a survey. However, when the “survey” link was clicked, malware was downloaded that wreaks havoc on unsuspecting customers’ computers.

Businesses should be especially careful. If one employee opens up a malicious email or link in a scam email, the whole computer network can be infiltrated with a virus.

One helpful tip to avoid getting bit by one of these viruses is to ignore the “pay now” and/or “you need to act now” emails. If you have purchased something online from a big name like WalMart or Target, they would not be demanding immediate payment via email – especially when you probably already paid at the online checkout.

In the case of receiving “order update” or “shipping update” emails, if you suspect it could be a scam, call the customer service line first – do not open the email. Talk to a real person, find out where your package is and when it will arrive. If it arrives safely, go and delete the potentially fraudulent email without ever opening it.

In today’s world, cyber-attacks are a rather common occurrence. Sometimes the best way to shield yourself is to do nothing at all, i.e. don’t open the emails or click on the links. But especially in the holiday frenzy of buying gifts, and then returning or exchanging them afterwards, the best advice is to slow down, don’t hurriedly click on anything suspicious, and verify that the emails you are receiving are truly legitimate.

That may entail – and this can be rare these days – actually picking up the phone and speaking with the good ole’ customer service reps.

If you feel that you have been a victim of fraud or you have questions, you can contact Attorney Mark Mandell. Or, have you been convicted of retail or return fraud? Arrested for drunk driving after a holiday party? Give Mark Mandell a call and you will get an attorney who knows how to aggressively protect your rights. Call today at (248) 380-0000.

‘Tis the Season of Fraud and Scams

Mark Mandell, Esq.

As families hurriedly finish up their holiday shopping, shoppers should beware of holiday hoaxes and scams – both online and at brick-and-mortar stores.

Shoppers who are not of the “digital native” generation are especially susceptible to online scams as they search for holiday gifts. Internet fraud is now the sixth most prevalent scam against seniors, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and results in millions of dollars lost each year.

I would like to provide some helpful hints for protecting yourself against such fraud, beyond avoiding the “Nigerian Prince” emails.

Perhaps the most important point to note is that, when checking out a purchase online, ensure that the web address begins with “https” – the “s” stands for “secure,” which means it is safer to provide your credit card information. Conversely, “http” – without the “s” – is less secure for making online purchases.

Many reputable retailers will even open a window to a separate secure check-out page.

If you are purchasing items from an online marketplace like Craiglist or eBay, the best practice is to only deal with sellers who provide a phone number. Do not rely solely on email, which could open you up to viruses or fraudulent requests for money.

Other common-sense steps you can take include:

  • Do not open emails from senders you do not recognize. If you receive such emails delete them immediately; if you open them on accident, delete them without clicking on any links.
  • Be mindful of email lists and/or reward programs that you have signed-up for. If you receive a “holiday greeting card” email from a sender whose list you have not signed up for, then delete those emails.
  • Do your homework on charities that solicit donations. Charitable donation drives are often at their peak during the holidays and present a unique opportunity for scammers to prey on people’s disposition toward giving during the holidays.
  • Watch out for phony websites. When searching for gifts online, read the website description before clicking on it. Scammers can buy websites with similar sounding names to reputable retailers to try and trick shoppers. (e.g. macys.com is the reputable site for Macy’s. But, macysstore.com could be a scammer website.)

Outside the online world, shoppers should also be mindful of the security of their financial information and data. In the heat of holiday shopping, it is tempting to constantly use your debit card. However, as many reports have shown recently, your information could get hacked.

Using a credit card, which is not linked to your bank account, is a better alternative. It is much easier to simply cancel a hacked credit card than to try and recover additional lost funds from your checking or savings account that is linked to your debit card. Keep in mind, too, that paying in cash, when possible, is the best method of keeping your financial information safe – and to tame your buying habits amid all the deals.

Here’s to wishing everyone a safe and happy fraud-free holiday season!

If you feel that you have been a victim of fraud or you have questions, you can contact Attorney Mark Mandell. Or, have you been convicted of retail or return fraud? Arrested for drunk driving after a holiday party? Give Mark Mandell a call and you will get an attorney who knows how to aggressively protect your rights. Call today at (248) 380-0000.

The App Outdoorsmen Should Carry With Them on Their Next Trip

Paul Bohn, Esq.

My love of being outdoors probably led me down the path to become interested in environmental law. But when I get outdoors for pleasure rather than work, I usually want to ditch the cell phone and most other technology.

But, a new animal app created by University of Michigan students and researchers may just change that habit. A new Animal Diversity Web (ADW) Web Pocket Guide app converted ADW’s expansive online database of the Great Lakes region’s animal species into an easy and fun to use smart phone app.

ADW is an online database run largely by U of M students. It includes a natural history of the Great Lakes region’s animals, and now you can access its content in a very digestible way on your smart phone.

The team of students and researchers worked with staff at each location on the app to develop unique content.

The locations include the University of Michigan’s Museum of Natural History, the U of M Biological Station, the Great Lakes Zoological Society, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, Seney National Wildlife Refuge, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and the Toledo Zoo.

The app reports the kind of species you might see in the region and the species’ locations. It also includes contact information for the locations and a “trail” that ADW created in with the staff at each location. Users can go to the locations and follow markers used to gain more information from the app.

You can download the app for free from the Apple app store by searching “ADW Pocket Guide.” However, users who pay $3.99 can access the app’s full features and gain more information for certain locations.

So for the outdoorsmen and women looking to ditch the printed guide for their next excursion, this app looks great for those traveling to the Great Lakes region. And the good news is that you don’t have to really be tech-savvy to use it.

You can read more about this and another user’s positive review of the app in Great Lakes Echo: http://greatlakesecho.org/2014/12/10/winged-wednesday-review-animal-app-great-guide-to-great-lakes-species/

Paul Bohn is one of the top-tier environmental and real estate attorneys in Michigan. If you need assistance on such a matter, you can give Paul a call at (248) 380-0000 ext. 9988. 

Air Force Sets Goal to Open 7 Combat Jobs to Women by Spring 2016

Earlier this month, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee announced plans to open seven currently male-only, direct combat jobs to women by spring of 2016.

While I commend the Air Force for this initiative, I first want to point out that women in our armed-forces have been in combat situations from the beginning. Whether as nurses or in other positions, women have been serving in combat and have sacrificed just as much as our male counterparts.

I am excited that these currently male-only direct-combat jobs will be open to women. Today, only seven jobs in the Air Force are closed to women to include special tactics officer, pararescue, tactical air control party (TACP), combat rescue officer, combat control team, special operation weather officer and enlisted.

Other service branches have already begun implementing plans to integrate women into direct-combat jobs by January 2016.

It has been nearly two years since then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered that all combat jobs be open to women by 2016 or explain why any must remain closed. In addition, the Pentagon lifted its ban on women in such roles in 2012.

While the ball has been slow to move, progress is finally being made to allow women the full opportunities to serve our country that they have long-deserve.

I have listened to many reports recently that give snapshot stories of women at the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course, and they are having their abilities questioned. It is as if their capabilities are on trial in the media, as well as at boot camp. Once again, I return to my first point: women have been serving in combat situations for years.

Women make up 15% of the 1.3 million active-duty members. With declining enrollment in enlistment, opening equal opportunity within the service for current women in the military and future female enlistees will only benefit the armed-forces.

Brigadier General Carol Ann Fausone (ret.)

General Fausone began her military career in the U.S. Air Force, and ended her service as the first female Brigadier General in the Michigan National Guard’s history. Today, she continues to help veterans and their families nationwide with her small business, The Veteran Advocate, LLC.

Read more on this story on the armed-forces news site, Military.com:  


Reports of Sexual Assault in the Military Spike Again

Over the past two years, there has been about a 60% spike in sexual assaults reported in the military, according to numbers coming from the Pentagon that have been reported to the Associated Press (AP). Officials report that there were almost 6,000 victims of reported assaults in 2014, compared with just over 5,500 last year. The Pentagon changed its reporting method, and now each victim counts as one report.

These reports are preliminary and have yet to be publicly released, so the actual numbers could shift slightly as the reports are finalized. But, under the new reporting methods, there were 3,604 victims in 2012, 5,518 in 2013, and 5,983 in 2014.

The new reporting method counts every victim as one report, rather than having one report of a sexual assault contain multiple victims.

However, we should pause for a moment and consider the fact that this has always been a problem. New research and surveys suggest that victims are more willing to come forward and actually report such assaults than they were previously. The trend could be due to increased awareness of the issue, victims feeling more empowered, and a combination of other factors.

Based on the recently reported numbers, and an anonymous survey conducted by the Rand Corporation, officials said that about 1 in every 4 victims filed a sexual assault report this year. In contrast, only 1 in every 10 victims filed a report in 2012.

Certainly, the under-reporting of sexual assault is a problem inside the military and in society at-large. However, the military presents unique circumstances, where lower ranking troops are unwilling to report out of fear of retaliation from their superiors. In addition, females in the military can attest to the “good ole’ boys club” mentality that exists. And in fact, one new survey reported that 60% of women who said they reported sexual assault did experience retaliation or social backlash from their peers. There may very well be an additional feeling of helplessness due to systemic problems.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have complained that the Pentagon has not done enough to make it easier and more acceptable for victims to report harassment and assaults. Meanwhile victims have complained that they are indeed not comfortable going to their superiors to report sexual assault. Reporting such an incident is (unjustly) stigmatized as a weakness and infidelity to your fellow troops in a culture that breeds strength and loyalty.

While the reported numbers of sexual assault are going up, the gap between the real numbers and reported numbers is shrinking. That trend represents a positive step for the service branches, but we must recognize it is just one step in a process to minimize sexual assault as much as possible.

Brigadier General Carol Ann Fausone (ret.)

General Fausone began her military career in the U.S. Air Force, and ended her service as the first female Brigadier General in the Michigan National Guard’s history. Today, she continues to help veterans and their families nationwide with her small business, The Veteran Advocate, LLC.

Protecting Your Digital Assets

Matt Worley, Esq.

One of the most overlooked areas in many estate plans is also one of the most important – your digital assets.  While it is obvious that everyone has physical assets (home, car, personal possessions, etc.), most people (whether they realize it or not) have digital assets as well.  Digital assets include things like websites, online banking accounts, blogs, credit card travel miles, online photos, and social media accounts.  Digital assets can be either personal or business in nature.

According to a recent survey conducted by McAfee, people place an average value on their digital assets of $35,000, around half of which is attributed to “sentimental” value (think: digital photos stored online).  With individuals placing such an emphasis and value on their digital assets, it is important to have a plan in place for them if you become incapacitated or pass away.

With the explosive rate at which technology and digital assets have developed in recent years, it’s no surprise that state and federal lawmakers are having difficulty keeping up.  Some states are beginning to introduce legislation to deal with digital assets and incorporate them into their probate codes.  However, the progress is slow and lacks a uniform approach among the states. 

Until the laws catch up with the technology, the best way to safeguard these digital assets is through careful planning with an experienced attorney.  When drafting estate planning documents (such as a durable power of attorney, will, or trust), it is important to include provisions which authorize the fiduciary to access these digital assets.  Such provisions should also explicitly define the scope of that authority and clearly state the asset holder’s intentions for those assets. 

Because this area of the law is new and still evolving, there are limited cases interpreting such provisions.  However, having well-drafted provisions addressing digital assets will certainly provide peace of mind.

If you are looking to protect your digital assets through a durable power of attorney, or looking to set up a complete estate plan, contact the experienced attorneys at Fausone Bohn, LLP.  You can reach us at 248-380-0000 or online at www.fb-firm.com.  Our legal experts are knowledgeable about changing laws and stay up to date on this evolving area to ensure you receive the best protection for your digital assets – because we know how important they are to you.

Michigan SOS Plans to Use Better Technology in Effort to Stamp Out Fraud

Mark Mandell, Esq.

Michigan’s Secretary of State Ruth Johnson recently announced new plans to combat scammers who take advantage of vulnerable citizens by selling fake insurance. Johnson is looking to utilize cutting-edge technology and expand best practices in a move that is a part of ongoing efforts to stamp out auto insurance fraud.

The details of the plan include: 

A comprehensive review of her department's processes, technology and structure to determine how best to detect and deter fraud. 
Data analysis to identify signs in transactions that may indicate fraud.
Expanding the verification of the thousands of insurance certificates the department receives from customers daily.
An upgrade in case management software to give department investigators the best tools for tracking down fraudulent activity.
A roundtable discussion with business leaders about fraud to seek their advice and ensure the department is following best practices.

The Secretary of State’s office is looking to use data analysis to compare elements of transactions with those of previous fraudulent ones. Similarities between one transaction and past fraudulent transactions can flagged and then alert the office that a fraud investigation may be needed. 

The department has received funding to add staff to a new unit that will verify the validity of the 10,000 to 20,000 insurance certificates that come in through the mail each day from customers renewing their vehicle registration, in addition to the reviews already being done in Secretary of State offices. Plans are also in place to upgrade its case management software so department investigators are best equipped for tracking down fraud.

Some of these new initiatives are the result of recent recommendations from a task force aimed at the fight against auto insurance fraud. To read more on this task force, check out my past post on the Secretary of State’s efforts: http://michiganfraudlawyer.blogspot.com/2014/10/mi-secretary-of-state-looking-to-crack.html 

It is refreshing to see follow-through from the Secretary of State on this issue, which affects so many Michiganders. Recent data shows that a whopping 16% of documents filed by motorists from 2013-2014 were fake. The outreach to the business community is also a critical point in the effort to keep the department at the forefront of protecting Michigan consumers from fraud. 

If you feel like you are a victim of insurance fraud, contact experienced Attorney Mark Mandell with Fausone Bohn, LLP, at (248) 380-0000. Mark has over a decade of experience fighting for his clients’ rights. 

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