Liz Pulliam Weston

The Basics

6 tales of financial revenge

People sometimes use money to settle emotional scores as well as financial ones. Here are a few stories and, perhaps, lessons.

By Liz Pulliam Weston

Heard the one about the $50 Porsche?

Chances are, if you heard it, the story happened to a friend of a friend who had spotted a sports car being advertised for a ridiculously low price.

The incredulous friend of a friend called up the seller, a woman who assured him the $50 price was not a typo. After the deal was done and he had the keys in hand, he asked her how she could possibly sell a mint-condition Porsche for so little.

"My husband ran off with his secretary," she replied. "He told me to sell the car and send him the proceeds."

That story might be an urban legend, but financial vengeance is wreaked every day, sometimes with unintended consequences. I tapped a network of financial professionals who have watched people inflict revenge, or attempt to, with mixed results.

Here are some of the true stories they relayed:

Collecting a debt

Tax professional Eva Rosenberg, known to many as the purveyor of the TaxMama.com Web site, told of a client who was recently divorced and having trouble getting her ex to pay the large sum he owed her as part of their divorce settlement.

Rosenberg, however, had an ace up her sleeve. The year before, the couple had made large estimated-tax payments to the Internal Revenue Service. Rosenberg knew that whoever filed a tax return first could apply those payments against the taxes he or she owed and could claim any excess as a refund.

Rosenberg said the "file first, claim first" reality can be viewed as a glitch in the IRS' system, but it's one that worked to her client's advantage.

"We filed her tax return first and claimed all the estimated tax payments on her return," Rosenberg said. "She got a huge refund. There was nothing he could do about it."

Don't mess with a tax pro

Rosenberg has her own tale of money vengeance. She once prepared 10 years of unfiled returns for a self-employed client, accepting a small deposit for the work. When the client showed up to collect the documents, he'd "forgotten" his wallet. Taking the paperwork, he said he'd get a check from his wife, who worked across the street.

"He never came back. He never returned my calls," Rosenberg recalled. "I was out about 60 hours of my life."

So Rosenberg filed -- and won -- a small-claims suit against the client, who didn't bother to show up or file an appeal.

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"He was sure that since he was self-employed, I wouldn't be able to collect," Rosenberg said. "Wrong. Never stiff the person who knows where all your sources of income come from."

Rosenberg filed the paperwork to have her judgment taken out of the earnings of his wife, an attorney at a law firm. (In California, income and debts are typically considered community property, which means a creditor for one-half of a married couple can go after the income or assets of the other.)

Rosenberg said the man finally called her back -- screaming obscenities. She got paid in full, though, and with interest.

Sibling rivalry

Kraig Kast works with wealthy families as an adviser for Atherton Trust in Redwood Shores, Calif. But some of the squabbles he's seen stem from conflicts that would be familiar to most households.

In one case, a woman in her 30s carried grudges against her brother that dated from childhood, when he had snapped the head off her favorite doll, smashing its porcelain face on the ground. The pair's conflicts continued into their teen years, when he belittled her to her face and ridiculed her date at a prom.

Her ill feelings toward him didn't abate as they grew older. After their mother died, she filed a lawsuit trying to have him removed as trustee of the $40 million real-estate empire their father had built.

Continued: $1 million legal fees

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