Millions are victims of fraud, scammed out of billions of dollars every year in the U.S. On the show, Brian Ross and Stephanie Zimmermann expose theses scams for us. Here, Stephanie answers your inquiries about scams and frauds and how to keep you and your family safe from them.
Patricia M. asks: If you are looking for assistance with a bad mortgage, where your house is worth less than you owe, who is it safe to go to? There are many ads out there saying they can help, but after watching today I’m wondering if anyone can really help!
Dear Patricia: This is a tricky one. Many homeowners who’ve lost income in the recession are really struggling to make their monthly mortgage payments. But the mortgage modification process can be difficult. I’ve seen consumers put into “trial modifications” only to find out later that they didn’t get approved.
Making things worse are the so-called “mortgage rescue” scammers, who simply collect money up-front from distressed homeowners and never provide the services they promise. Run from these people as fast as you can.
The most important thing is to be pro-active and not ignore the issue. Contact your lender and see if they’ll work with you – remember, your bank would rather not take possession of your house because it’s a huge hassle for them. Go to makinghomeaffordable.gov and HUD.gov for details about programs that might be available to you to keep you in your home, as well as referrals to reputable housing counselors in your area. Good luck! — Stephanie
Kathy W. asks: My husband and I were scammed in a real estate fraud in Florida. They stole $29,000 when we were purchasing a residential condominium. We have tried everything, the state real estate commission, state business and finance department, lawyers, etc and cannot get our money back. We were finally told by one attorney that we could spend more money than we would get back. Please help us. We are both retired and disabled and this was the last of our savings, which we desperately need.
Dear Kathy: What a nightmare – $29,000 is not a small amount of money. I couldn’t tell from your letter what sort of fraud was involved, but have you tried contacting any consumer authorities in Florida? The Florida Division of Consumer Services is at 800helpfla.com and the Florida Attorney General’s Office is at myfloridalegal.com. You should file complaints with both these agencies and ask about further assistance.
If you’re still stuck, consider submitting your problem to the ABC News Fixer! – Stephanie
Tara E. asks: I found a job on Craigslist as a personal assistant for an orphanage. [The poster] sent me a check for $3,000 and stupidly I cashed the check at my bank and sent the money through Western Union, and now I cannot open an account with any bank because the bank I was banking with reported me to the checking system. I went to the police when he sent me the second check. It raised a red flag and because I wasn’t sure about it, so I went to my bank and showed them the check the same day and told the bank about what happened and now they blame me for it. I don’t know what to do, help!
Dear Tara: You were ensnared by a scam that takes many forms but always involves these two things: a counterfeit check and a wire transfer. The scammers steal the routing numbers from stolen checks, and with a little photocopying wizardry they create realistic-looking checks that any bank will accept.
In the “mystery shopping” scam we talked about on Katie’s show Wednesday, that fake check is sent for the victim to use for their shopping assignment. In overpayment scams, the scammer buys an item or reimburses a worker with a check for considerably more than the amount they owe. When the person points this out, the scammer says, “Oh, I accidentally did that – would you mind cashing the whole thing and just sending me back the overpayment?”
The problem is that even though the deposited funds will post to your bank account within about a day, it can take two or three weeks for the bank to discover the check was a fake. And by then, the victim has already wired all that money to the scammer.
Many consumers get mad at their bank for not catching the fraud. But the bank can’t know the check is fake until after the transaction wends its way through the system. Federal banking rules require them to make the funds “available” right away, but this does not mean the check has cleared.
Make sure you get a written police report and also contact the three major credit reporting bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – and speak with their fraud departments. File complaints with your state’s Attorney General, the Federal Trade Commission and local consumer authorities. Keep a file of all this to show your bank, to persuade them that you are the victim, not the perpetrator. – Stephanie
Sandra P.: I am being “slammed” by a major television provider to the tune of over $15.00 a month without being informed of why they raised my bill $5.00 in January and $10.00 in February. Are others being conned without notice because they have “auto billing” from a service?
Dear Sandra: The option to “auto-pay” bills sure is convenient, but the downside is that charges that shouldn’t be on there get paid, too.
First, you should call the company’s customer service and find out why your bills seem to be growing each month. Does your contract allow for a price increase after a certain period of time?
If the charges aren’t legitimate, ask the company to remove them from your account and to send you an updated bill. If it keeps happening, threaten to go with another provider. And consider dropping auto-pay.
Whatever you do, don’t just ignore the extra charges and hope they’ll go away – these types of problems rarely do! – Stephanie
Barbara R.: Are there any legitimate “work from home” opportunities or are they all scams? I can’t think of the terms they use to promote them, but the ones claim you can make money by filling out surveys or other online activities for corporations. They always seem to have respected media logos, such as “seen in USA today, New York Times etc.”
Dear Barbara: Without seeing the specific offer, I couldn’t say – but I would like to caution everyone that fancy logos and supposed endorsements are meaningless if the scammers are using them without authorization. Or perhaps they’ve purchased ad space in a publication in the past, and they are now using that publication’s logo to imply some sort of editorial endorsement.
Generally speaking, if you come across a work-at-home opportunity offered to the public at large, with no requirements for experience or education and promises of lucrative paychecks, consider it a scam. – Stephanie
Judy C.: I received a phone call indicating the interest on my charge cards could be lowered to 6percent. At one point I even hung up on them and they called right back. Sadly, I fell for it and gave them too much information even though they seemed to have the information necessary to contact me about the cards. I haven’t noticed anything yet either in the way of unknown charges or a change in the interest rate, maybe because at the time the cards were pretty much maxed out.
Dear Judy: I’m not sure exactly what this was about, but it could be that identity thieves had partial information about you and were seeking to get more. To protect yourself, you should call your credit card issuers and ask to speak with their fraud department. Explain what happened and ask them to check your accounts.
Then, go to annualcreditreport.com (that’s the official site set up under the auspices of the Federal Trade Commission) and follow the prompts to order your free credit reports from Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. By law, you’re entitled to get free copies every 12 months. Look over your reports carefully to make sure no one has opened any fraudulent accounts in your name. Good luck! – Stephanie
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