NEW YORK (6/29/09)--While you’re pinching pennies during the recession, scammers keep finding innovative ways to pick your pocket. The foreclosure mess is turning into a lucrative business for crooks who promise to “help people” avoid foreclosure--for a price (nytimes.com
June 21). While there are many legitimate nonprofit agencies providing free, confidential help to borrowers, con artists convince desperate homeowners who are behind on their payments to fork over $1,500, $3,000, or even up to $8,000 in fees for services that typically are free. Before you seek help, ask the credit union for advice or for referrals to legitimate counselors. Also, visit www.findaforeclosurecounselor.org,
which allows you to enter your zip code to access information about local agencies affiliated with the federal government’s National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling (NFMC) Program, a collaboration with NeighborWorks America. Be on the lookout for yet another scam source that’s less well-known: online guest books for deceased individuals. This is a site where family and friends can share stories about the deceased, leave messages of support for each other, and upload pictures. But Consumer Reports
(June 15) warns that scammers have easy access to the e-mail addresses some visitors post on the guest book site. Crooks then send phony messages, stating that a long-deceased relative owes them money that will be released as soon as fees are paid to an overseas bank account. In some cases, the letter writers claim to be officials of foreign governments. Many people have been fooled--even when they aren’t distracted by grief. Avoid becoming a victim of online guest books:
* Refuse to respond to anyone or any company that requests an advance payment of fees. * Add the e-mail address of the sender to your “block address” list. * Notify your local or state consumer protection office of the scam so they can pass the information on to authorities and warn others. * If you receive a check, take it to your credit union to verify authenticity before you cash it. If you deposit it, you may be liable for repaying any funds you withdraw against it.
For more information, listen to “How to Prevent Foreclosure” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.