Senior Holiday Scams

It is November and the holiday season has begun! While this season generally brings food, family and fun, it can also expose some of the more vulnerable members of our communities to a heightened risk of scams and fraud. Senior citizens and those who care for them need to be especially vigilant against these tricks. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a great article that highlights some of the more common scams and steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones.


Scams that target older people occur every day, but you can count on scammers to ramp up their efforts to prey on people’s generosity during the holiday season. These grinches, armed with their dirty tricks, may even tell elaborate stories to pull at your heartstrings as they slip their sticky fingers into your wallet.

During the holidays, the common scam known as the imposter or “grandparent scam” might be decorated with a special plea, a story of a relative in trouble who desperately needs money to fix a car or get out of jail and home for the holidays.

The ruse known as the IRS scam takes on a vicious new twist with a grinch on the phone threatening an elder with being arrested and spending the holidays in jail for unpaid taxes or a fake debt. And then there is the predictable increase in false or imposter charities, which sound identical to the real ones. The pitch is wrapped in sympathy inducing requests for year-end, tax-deductible holiday donations. These grinches stand ready to take your credit card or check routing information and charge you for bogus Nutcracker ballet tickets, or a holiday charity fundraising event.

These scammers may even scour the internet and social media sites looking for a special connection to your life, such as a family member or community connection, to get you to trust them so you’ll be willing to part with your hard-earned money. Some will go to great lengths to sound like they know you, or worse, your elderly parents.

Here are a few tips:

  • Before offering your help to someone who claims to be a grandchild (or other relative/friend), be sure to telephone your family to verify that the emergency or urgent request is genuine.
    • Beware of a caller who insists on secrecy. Never allow anyone to discourage you from seeking information, verification, support and counsel from family members, friends or trusted advisers prior to making any financial transaction.
  • Take the following precautions to make sure your charitable donations benefit the people and organizations you want to help. If a caller claims to be from an established organization such as a hospital, charity, or law enforcement agency, look up the number of the organization independently and verify the claim before sending money.
    • Ask for detailed information about the charity, including name, address, and telephone number.
    • Then, call the charity directly. Ask if the organization is aware of the solicitation and has authorized the use of its name. The organization’s development staff should be able to help you.
  • If you have received a letter from the IRS stating that you owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040 for information.
    • The IRS will neither call to demand immediate payment, nor call without first mailing a bill. And, the IRS does not require you to use a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card nor will they threaten you with arrest for not paying.

Share this information with your friends, parents and others in your community. For more information on identifying and preventing fraud and scams, check out Money Smart for Older Adults: Prevent Elder Financial Exploitation  guide for consumers. In addition, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office for Older Americans has produced materials that include Managing Someone Else’s Money Guides for financial caregivers. To find these materials and to learn more, go to consumerfinance.gov/older-americans.


If you have a been a victim of a consumer scam, South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help. To see if you are eligible, call our Intake Office at 888-346-5592 or apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.

Helping Veterans

Veterans Day is a day we celebrate those who have served in the Armed Forces. However, separation from military service can be an exciting and confusing time as veterans readjust to civilian life. At South Carolina Legal Services, we work to meet the civil legal needs of those who have served our country. In addition to receiving direct referrals from SC Serves, many of our offices regularly participate in Stand Down events for veterans across the state to provide information about the services we provide.

We provide representation to income eligible veterans in every area of law where we usually represent clients. We also have numerous attorneys throughout the state who are certified to represent veterans in Veteran’s Administration (VA) benefits cases, although most of our referrals are not directly related to military service or VA benefits such as pensions or VA disability. We most often receive referrals to represent veterans in family law (mostly custody and visitation cases).  We also receive referrals for representation in eviction cases, used car cases, and consumer law cases.

In pension and VA disability cases, there are some things a veteran can do at separation to help prevent delays in the future. Primarily, it is a good practice to obtain and keep his or her DD214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty). Also, veterans should obtain their OMPF (Official Military Personnel File) upon separation. It can take a while to locate these records once the veteran has left active duty service, which can cause delays in applying for benefits.

Veterans or their next of kin (defined as the un-remarried widow or widower, child, parent, or sibling of the deceased veteran) can request copies of the veteran’s military records through the National Archives’ National Personnel Record Center (NPRC). The NPRC normally responds to requests in ten working days or less. However, some requests may take much longer. Records are usually free for veterans, next-of-kin and authorized representatives.

In some circumstances, a service-related health problem may come to light shortly after discharge. If a veteran is having health problems after separation, he or she should go to a veteran clinic soon after separation. It is generally easier to argue that health problems have a service connection if the veteran has medical records showing that the issues existed within a year of separation. Seeking medical care shortly after discharge is important especially if the injury is not listed in the OMPF.

It is also important to be mindful of appeal deadlines and seek legal representation (if it is desired) as soon as a denial of any benefits is received to avoid missing important deadlines and to allow the representative time to fully evaluate the case.

Race Equity Project & Community Lawyering

At the beginning of 2019 South Carolina Legal Services created the Cultural Humility Unit.  The Cultural Humility Unit is a team of South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) staff dedicated to aiding and empowering communities impacted by systemic inequity.  Work of this unit includes but is not limited to: Race equity issues; access and equity for individuals with disabilities; the needs of individuals with limited English proficiency (those with visual/hearing impairments, individuals who cannot read and/or write, and individuals who primarily speak or write a language other than English); and the needs of LGBTQ+ community members.

In the Spring of 2019 four members of SCLS, Tiffney Love, Susan Ingles, Shinead James, and Whitney Stout, were accepted in the Shriver Center on Poverty Law’s Racial Justice Institute.  This competitive program included weekly and biweekly training sessions from May 2019 through October 2019.  The program also included a week of in-person training in Chicago in June during which the team was able to network with other Legal Aid and Legal Services organizations around the country also prioritizing equity work and obtain feedback on the Race Equity Project they would ultimately implement at SCLS.  

The proposed Race Equity Project includes implicit bias training for our staff, training on community lawyering, and the implementation of de-biasing interventions.  The project will also mobilize the Cultural Humility Unit team members to assist in examining the internal policies, procedures, and practices within the law firm to ensure the community is served and the firm aligned with the values of cultural humility and equity.

With the support of the SCLS Executive Director and Board the first step of the race equity project began with the Cultural Humility Unit receiving training on implicit bias and the steps of implementing a de-biasing protocol.  At the October 2019 Annual SCLS Statewide Training, the Unit made a presentation to all staff on cognitive bias, how patterns of behavior create structures and systems, how these systems create inequity, and how the decisions we each make in our roles at SCLS could perpetuate cycles of bias.

Cultural Humility is the process of identifying how everyone’s unique cultural identity affects the needs and challenges faced by each individual.  Going forward the Cultural Humility Unit will continue with the Race Equity Project and will also adapt the strategies learned at the Racial Justice Institute to expand our trainings to include topics related to other communities and groups experiencing systemic inequities.  Following the Statewide Conference, the Cultural Humility Unit met for an introductory training to Community Lawyering.  The Unit will use Community Lawyering tools to form relationships with community groups and leaders to ensure that we are informed of the needs and goals of our communities and are offering trainings to prepare our staff to assist with empowering our clients and communities.  Some initial community outreach plans include expanding our attendance at LGBTQ+ Pride and Latinx Community Events.

If you are interested in SCLS attending your event or providing information or training to your community, please contact Whitney Stout at whitneystout@sclegal.org.    

No Benefits And No Improvements

NOTE: All the names in this article have been changed to protect their identities.

Rick Barnett had been getting social security disability benefits since 2004. The Social Security Administration (SSA) initially determined that Rick’s disability stemmed from stomach issues, back injuries and mental limitations. At the end of 2013, SSA determined that Rick was no longer disabled, and his benefits were to be terminated. Rick did not know how to explain this. He did not feel any improvement in his health. His only explanation was that he refused to have surgery on his back.  He was 52 years old with a limited education and continued to be unable to work. Rick appealed the termination of his benefits.

During the next three years, as the appeal process was ongoing, Rick made countless doctor visits, suffered several emergency hospitalizations, and was prescribed more medication than he could recount. In 2017, Rick was referred to South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) by an administrative law judge (ALJ) who was presiding over his social security disability hearing.

Once again, the decision was that Rick had medical improvement, was no longer disabled and not eligible for social security benefits. Because we disagreed with the decision, we appealed to the Appeals Council. Unfortunately, this process can take up to 25 months and Rick’s benefits would now stop.  At this point, the only thing Rick could do was wait for a decision.  Fortunately for him, a decision came quickly. The Appeals Council reversed the judge’s decision and found that Rick remained totally disabled.

Rick’s troubles were not over yet, however. After his social security benefits were reinstated, SSA determined that he was “living in a household of another” and reduced his benefits by one-third. This was despite the fact that there was no change in Rick’s living arrangements since he was originally determined to be disabled. Rick had continued to live with his girlfriend, and to pay for his own living expenses. He had also accrued debt from the years when he was not receiving any income.

Thanks to zealous representation of Rick’s SCLS attorney, Rick’s unfavorable decision was subsequently overturned, and his full benefit amount was reinstated. Furthermore, Rick received over fifteen thousand dollars in back pay for the years when his benefits had been terminated.

Help for Victims of Domestic Violence

A few weeks ago, a man was charged with a double homicide in Sumter, South Carolina.  The man was accused of killing a woman he was involved in a romantic relationship with.  He was also accused of killing her 5-year old daughter.  He may have killed another woman in a different state about one month prior to the double homicide in Sumter.  In a different case, a woman in Richland County was charged with murder.  She had allegedly stabbed her boyfriend. Police had responded to 52 calls for service from the couple’s residence in 2019.  In court, the accused claimed that she had been the victim of domestic violence at her boyfriend’s hands.  His family claimed that the accused woman was the violent one and had previously cut off the deceased man’s ear.

In thinking about these horrific tragedies, I ponder if these people would be alive today if something had been done differently?  Did law enforcement do everything they could have done to protect them?  Should the law enforcement have arrested someone during those 52 times that they were called to that home?  If the abuser had been arrested and convicted, would these victims still be alive today? If our laws were stricter, would that 5-year-old little girl have started kindergarten this year? Of course, no one will ever know the answer to these questions. 

Currently, police officers have discretion whether to arrest or not arrest if they have probable cause to believe that a person is committing or has freshly committed an act of domestic violence.  Would a change in the law requiring officers to arrest when there is probable cause help us lower our domestic violence related homicides?  Or, would it just lead to less victims calling the police?  Again, I don’t know the answer. 

One thing I do know is that there are free resources available to victims of domestic violence who are ready to get out of the abusive relationship.  Lighthouse for Life provides “freedom bags” full of essentials when a victim leaves an abusive relationship.  There are domestic violence shelters like Sister Care and the YWCA that offer emergency housing and counseling.  South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) offers free legal assistance to victims of domestic violence.  SCLS can help victims get an Order of Protection, custody of their children, or even a divorce from the abuser.  These are just a few of the many resources available.  You can apply for our help by calling 1-888-346-5592 or online at www.sclegal.org. Our eligibility for free legal help depends on your income and your legal problem.

In 2018, 41 people lost their lives in South Carolina as a result of domestic violence. That is 41 too many.  October is domestic violence awareness month.  If you or someone you know needs assistance in getting out of an abusive relationship, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

October is National Bullying Prevention Month

Bullying is any act intended or that should be reasonably intended to hurt or harm another person that is usually repeated or occurs more than once. Everyone (students, employees, and volunteers) who witnesses bullying or harassment in public schools or even outside of schools when it causes a major disruption in school has a duty to report it to the principal or other appropriate persons.  Unfortunately, society seems to reserve the term bullying for behavior associated with youth.  However, bullying can be found in relationships of all ages and in all social groups.  Adults can be victims of bullying and harassment in many settings: online, at home, at school and at work.  We can identify some forms of bullying as domestic violence, child abuse, sexual harassment and racial discrimination.  

People react differently in an undesirable situation when they perceive that nothing can be changed.  However, there will be a reaction. For victims of bullying, we do not know if the reaction will be internal, external, or a combination of both.  According to a 2017 report by the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children, in South Carolina, suicide was the leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 14 and the second leading cause of death for children ages 15 to 17.  The Committee on Children also reported that the number of high school students that attempted suicide in South Carolina was significantly higher than the national percentage.  Bullying is not the cause of all suicides, but it can cause or increase mental health disorders.  Also, it is common for bullying or harassment to be mentioned as a trigger for extreme responses such as behavioral issues in school or even school shootings.

Perhaps, if we want to prevent bullying, we should remember, bullying is not something that only happens to children in public schools.  It is a form of abuse similar to domestic violence, child abuse, sexual harassment, racial discrimination and others.  We observe bullying in many forms and cultures, and we become desensitized to it.  It is difficult to prevent or stop, but we should not stop trying. If you need free legal assistance to combat aggression or bullying in any form, apply at South Carolina Legal Services by calling 1-888-346-5592 or online at www.sclegal.org. Our eligibility for free legal help depends on your income and your legal problem.

LGBTQ+ Issues and Resources in South Carolina

The history of the LGBTQ+ community is one that is long and rocky, filled with the struggles of people who even today are having to fight for their rights. LGBTQ+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and other sexual identities. Of course, Supreme Court cases such as Obergefell v. Hodges make a huge impact and spur greatly the progress of the community. However, the Supreme Court cannot handle all of the everyday legal issues that members of the community face. Fortunately, at the local levels, legal aid organizations like South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) are there to handle specifics that one may not even consider at first: name and gender changes on birth certificates, marriage licenses, adoption and divorce.

Just last year, SCLS helped a transgender man get a name and gender change on his birth certificate. He faced a roadblock in his home state which did not recognize gender changes for those in the transgender community. The court there refused his request to change his name and gender on his birth certificate. SCLS took the case and was able to get a judge in South Carolina to order both changes. This client’s experience in his home state shows that the law and society still have a long way to go toward true equality for members of the LBGTQ+ community. At the same time, the successful completion of the case here shows that small, but life changing victories are happening every day.

Local programs also exist to empower people and give them a place in their city or town. South Carolina’s own Upstate Pride was founded in 2008 as a grassroots effort to spread awareness and educate members of the upstate. Their first march had around 500 people attend, and that number has only grown in the years since. Upstate Pride has since garnered support from many local and national resources, businesses, and even some churches.

Other resources include organizations focused on creating positive environments, such as BJUnity, which provides a safe harbor for those in the LGBTQ+ community that have been negatively affected by fundamentalist Christianity. There are medical resources such as AID Upstate that provide support for those living with HIV/AIDS, as well as prevention services. Mobile groups such as PrideLink travel throughout the Upstate, providing assistance with medical and social issues through their mobile community center. Businesses such as Cafe and Then Some in Greenville host frequent drag brunches where tips are donated to LGBTQ+ organizations like Upstate Pride itself.

There are almost constant events being offered throughout the upstate. In fact, Upstate Pride week is October 25th to November 3rd, ending with a drag brunch from South Carolina’s own Delighted Tobehere at Cafe and Then Some in Greenville. SCLS will be attending the Upstate Pride March and Festival at Barnet Park in downtown Spartanburg on Saturday, November 2. We will be providing information and brochures about our services, so come by if you have any legal needs!

SCLS is a non-profit law firm that provides free legal help to low-income South Carolinians. To apply for our services, please call at 1-888-346-5592 or apply online at www.sclegal.org.  

DV Awareness Events

October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month. South Carolina. Every year, South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) staff members participate in a variety of local activities to raise awareness to the issue of domestic violence and help survivors. This year was no exception.

Our Spartanburg office hosted a donation drive for the benefit of local survivors. With the funds collected, they purchased personal hygiene products and other essential items. Staff then assembled individual bags with these items, legal information and lots of love, and delivered them to the local police department.

Bridget Hall and Rita Roache at No Excuse For Abuse outreach event in Mt. Pleasant. Sponsored by the local police department, this was a display of unity and support by agencies and businesses that work toward a goal of stomping out domestic violence. Bridget and Rita talked to survivors and provided information about the legal help available at SCLS.

The Rock Hill office participated in the Young Lawyers Division’s Voices Against Domestic Violence Shelter Drive. Staff purchased and donated four boxes of toiletries, diapers, washcloths and other personal items for survivors of domestic violence.

In honor of domestic violence victims who lost their lives due to domestic violence, our Greenwood office participated in a balloon release ceremony in Abbeville.

Everyone Needs a Will

Less than fifty percent of Americans have a Last Will and Testament (Will), which is the document that tells your loved ones what you want to happen to your belongings after your death.  Wills are not just for people who have a lot of money and land to divide among their loved ones after their death.  Wills are for everyone.  Do you care who gets your property when you die?  Do you care who gets your money when you die? Do you care who is appointed as the guardian of your minor children when you die?  If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you need a Will.

            A Will lets you name the people you would like to inherit your belongings after your death. If you have children under the age of eighteen, a Will lets you name who you would like to be appointed as their legal guardian.  Having a Will makes your wishes clear to your family member and will cause less confusion for them after your death.  The Will also names a specific person, called a personal representative, to be responsible for making sure that the wishes stated in your Will are followed and that your chosen heirs receive the correct property or items after your death.

            If you die without a Will, the Probate Court Judge will divide your personal belongings according to the South Carolina intestacy law. Under the current law, your closest living family members will have it divided among them.  This may not be the same way that you wish to divide up your belongings and may not be the same people you wish to inherit from you after your death.  With some exceptions, you cannot prevent your family members from inheriting from you unless you have a Will that states that you do not want that person to receive anything.

The only way to make sure that your wishes are followed after your death is to have a valid Will prepared by an attorney. It must be properly witnessed and notarized.  You will not have any input or control over how your belongings are divided after your death unless you have a valid Last Will and Testament.  If you are interested in having a Last Will and Testament, but cannot afford an attorney, then you should contact South Carolina Legal Services at  1 (888) 346-5592 or apply online to see if you are eligible for a free attorney to help you.

Temporary Hearing in Family Court

In our last issue, we discussed the purposes of a temporary hearing in Family Court.  Here, we will discuss which forms and documents will be used in the temporary hearing.

Except in unusual circumstances, the parties in a case do not testify in temporary hearings.  Testifying is when you verbally tell the Judge what you have observed and what you are asking of the Court.  Instead, in temporary hearings, the parties and witnesses express their positions, observations, and opinions by completing affidavits.  An affidavit is a written, signed and notarized statement. 

The parties in the case should prepare their own affidavits with the assistance of their attorneys.  They may also want to use affidavits from additional witnesses.  Your attorney may provide a form for you to give to witnesses so that the witnesses can prepare their own affidavits.  The most helpful witnesses are generally people who are assumed to be neutral.  For example, a child’s teacher or a pastor’s affidavit may be considered useful to the Judge’s decision if the witness writing the affidavit has observed events that are relevant to the issue. 

If the issue is which parent should get custody, some relevant facts may include which parent helped the child with schoolwork, which parent appeared at teacher conferences, which parent takes the child to religious services, or how each parent interacts with the child.  Witnesses who have not observed the parent with the child, may be able to provide other useful information.  For example, the parent’s boss may write an affidavit about the parent’s good work ethic.  While these facts may not be quite as relevant to the issue of custody, they still may help the Judge with his or her decision.

There may be some evidence that could be attached to an affidavit, such as photos, bills or medical records.  Your attorney can help determine which attachments are appropriate and would be helpful.

Financial declarations are also required at temporary hearings.  A financial declaration lists a party’s income, bills, debts, and the value of their property.  Financial declarations are also sworn, notarized statements.  It is important to be truthful in your financial declaration. Also, carefully review the other party’s financial declaration.  Point out any mistakes to your attorney.

If there are children involved in your Court case, you will also prepare a temporary proposed parenting plan.  This document shows the Court what you believe would be best for the children. It includes a schedule for the child seeing both parents.  You can also list necessary restrictions in a parenting plan. For example, you could ask that the child not be exposed to R-rated movies.  In most cases, Judges want children to spend significant time with both parents.  If you believe it is unsafe for your child to spend time with the other parent, you and your attorney will need to explain why it is unsafe.  Your attorney may have other forms and steps they advise you to complete for the best chance of success.

As you can see, preparation for a temporary hearing can take some time.  Whenever you let the Judge decide an issue, you are giving up control about how it will be decided.  Also, the Judge does not know about your life.  You do.  For that reason, it is always best to see if there is way to reach an agreement before you let the Judge decide.  The Judge will often ask if you have tried yet to reach an agreement with the other party.  If there are children involved, the Judge will want to know that you are trying to do what is best for the children.   A temporary hearing is one step of many Family Court cases.  What is decided at the temporary hearing may be changed in the future, but it is important to spend time preparing for your best chance of success.