Wednesday, 29 May 2024

Scam update: Foreclosure 'help,' sweepstakes letters and mystery shopping

LAKE COUNTY – Scams seem to be never-ending, and a new crop of them are popping up, aiming to take advantage of people who are vulnerable in the current economic situation.


The following are several new scams reported to Lake County News by local residents in officials.


The bottom line on all of them – don't respond and never give out your personal information to such solicitations.


Foreclosure scams run amok


With thousands of homes being lost across the state to foreclosure, many people are looking for help to save their homes, and the result is many predatory practices are springing up.


The state Department of Consumer Affairs, at its Take Charge California Web site has a page set up just to address various scams (www.takechargeca.ca.gov/besafe/scams.shtml).


At the top of the current scam list is the foreclosure topic.


The Department of Consumer Affairs urges that anyone seeking foreclosure relief should take special precautions with anyone who is not their mortgage lender.


Some of their tips:


  • Don't transfer title or sell your house to the foreclosure rescuer. Fraudulent foreclosure consultants often promise that if the homeowners transfer title, they may stay in the home as renters and buy it back later. The foreclosure consultants claim that transfer is necessary so that someone with a better credit rating can obtain a new loan to prevent foreclosure. But beware – this is a common scheme “rescuers” use to evict homeowners and steal all or most of their home’s equity.

  • Don't pay money to people who promise to work with your lender to modify your loan. It is unlawful for foreclosure consultants to collect money before they give you a written contract describing the services they promise to provide and they actually perform all the services described in the contract, such as negotiating new monthly payments or a new mortgage loan.

  • Don't pay your mortgage payments to someone other than your lender, even if he/she promises to pass the payment on to the lender. Fraudulent foreclosure consultants often keep the money for themselves. Don't sign any documents without reading them first. Many homeowners think that they are signing documents for a new loan to pay off the mortgage they are behind on. Later, they discover that they actually transferred ownership to the “rescuer.”

  • Don't ignore letters from your lender. Consider contacting your lender yourself, as many lenders are willing to work with homeowners who are behind on their payments.

  • Do contact a housing counselor approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), who may be able to help you for free. For a referral to a housing counselor near you, contact HUD at 1-800-569-4287 (TTY: 1-800-877-8339) or www.hud.gov.


If you transferred your property or paid someone to “rescue you from foreclosure you may be a victim of a crime. If that's your experience, please register a complaint with the Attorney General’s Public Inquiry Unit at www.ag.ca.gov/consumers or by calling (800) 952-5225 (TTY (800) 735-2922).


Scam preys on support for military


An e-mail scam now circulating via e-mail purports to come from a soldier – names change on the e-mails, but have included Sgt. Deborah Taylor and Sgt. Sarah Curtis Hulburt – who claims to be a member of the US Army USARPAC Medical Team, which supposedly deployed to Iraq at the beginning of the war.


In the e-mail's narrative, the writer promises to share “highly classified information” gained at the forefront of the war. The e-mail includes a link to a BBC story from April of 2003 regarding a stash of nearly $200 million in US and foreign money found in Baghdad.


The writer claims to have happened upon a large amount of money and asks for the receiver to respond to an e-mail if they're interested in assisting her “to both our benefit.”


If you receive an e-mail from an unknown individual asking for information, don't respond.


Beware the sweepstakes letter


The rule is, if it seems too good to be true, it usually is.


So if you receive a letter in the mail from the “Sweepstakes Audit Bureau” based in Dallas, Texas, that says a $12 million prize has gone unclaimed and asks for a $5 research and data fee – to be paid by check, cash or money order – it's best to put it in the shredder.


The letter doesn't clearly say the sender has won anything, and the back of the letter reportedly says the fee only qualifies the person who sends it in to receive a listing of unclaimed prizes.


Locally, there's been at least one case of an elderly resident receiving the letter and bringing it to the attention of law enforcement.


Mystery shopping scam


A local resident reported receiving a letter from “Shoppers Viewpoint Inc.” which includes a cashier's check for $5,000.


It's another scam, because the check is reportedly counterfeit.


Instances of such letters have been reported not just locally but across the country. A report from Aiken, South Carolina, noted that legitimate companies don't send out cashier's checks or require you to send money.


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