There’s a scam for every occasion. You don’t need to be shopping for pie in the sky. You don’t need to be looking for a get rich scheme to find yourself face-to-face up against a con artist.
Yes, it is OK to take risks as long as you know what the ground rules are and recognize the risks involved in your decisions. Playing the stock market and the lottery are certainly ok as long as you know the risks and the ground rules. As long as you play with money you can afford to lose and go in with your eyes wide open, there’s nothing to worry about.
But scams are another animal all together. They entice us with promises, appeal to our better instincts, weave sometimes very elaborate tales and lure the unwary into traps.
Scams target those who are afraid or facing emotional / financial distress.They capitalize on what may well be worthy attempts to help the public and entrap the unwary with offers “you can’t refuse”.
One of the more recent programs that have crossed my desk involves the Obama Making Home Affordable program. This is a great program that will help many resolve their most pressing fears of destitution and homelessness. If you do a quick Google Search you’ll find close to 14,000,000 references to this program. And, you’ll find flyers scattered everywhere with offers to help secure this help. But be very careful. This is a great program that is being used by unethical scam artists.
One such offer came in the form of a phone call from an attorney who “specializes in getting homeowners approved in this program”. They promised a 96-98% approval rate. They “don’t take everyone” you have to demonstrate that you are a good candidate for the program. They even suggest that you check the Better Business Bureau to put your concerns at rest.The deal is, you put $3,000 into a trust account the money is then applied to your approval…and if you don’t get approved, you get your money back.
Now, that’s an offer you can’t refuse, right? It does make sense that attorneys should make a living for services rendered. But this is not that kind of thing. There is no guarantee for the Obama program and there is no fee to get approved. Besides attorneys don’t guarantee success from their efforts, at least reputable attorneys don’t.
Grandpa had advice for such as this, “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Run, don’t walk away”.My personal recommendation is to go directely to the horse’s mouth. Check out the Government Websites…they all end in ” .gov” NOT ‘ .com”!
If you think this is a isolated offer. Think again. A resident in my condo insisted that help is imminent – even after I’d already confirmed that the Obama plan wouldn’t work in my specific case. “All you have to do is call this phone number.” She gave me a flyer promising help… even called the number for me and gave them my contact information “They’ll be calling you today or tomorrow,” she assured me. The number of the flyer was unlisted. The came came from a very different phone number and was ominously similar to the previous contact I’d had with the attorney.
Scams like these will leave a very bitter taste in the mouths of people who unwittingly get caught up in the scam machine.
Realizing this, the Obama administration is making every effort to help us. They’re chasing down the scams and working to establish oversights to protect us from the most egregious offenders. The government has set up a website to help us identify fraudulent activities and scams of every kind. Check out https://www.stopfraud.gov/ There’s an entire section on mortgage and lending schemes That’s a good place to start. But scams are more prolific than rabbits. It’s up to us to protect ourselves.
Here’s what we can do:
- Do not jump at the first promise you see. Yes, you’re desperate. Yes, you need help now, but you’re asking for trouble if you don’t do your homework first.
- Ask questions. Ask…ask…and ask again. If it’s a government program, check with your representative and senator If it’s a state issue go straight to your local representative and senator or your Attorney General. Remember you voted them into office to serve your best interests…to protect you.
- Do that Google search if you will, but be sure to go straight to the source. Remember, it’s very easy to make a website or an email or a letter look official. Be sure you are indeed reaching the official source. In the case of mortgage information and Obama’s program check out http://makinghomeaffordable.gov/ AND call 1-888-995-HOPE (4673). They’ll put you in touch with the appropriate local people authorized to walk you through the system. They won’t make guarantees, they will treat you with respect and if there’s a solution to your challenge, they’ll find it. Remember this is a HUD program and it doesn’t apply to everyone, not every bank participates. (Hint: websites with .org at the end are generally government websites. .net sites are generally professional organizations. Even then it is wise to call and talk to a real person.)
- Advice from a hacker: Do business with only those that you can see face-to-face and can that have real addresses you can go to. Once you have them firmly established as legitimate, then feel free to deal with them on internet or phone.
- Check out the various watchdogs who are working diligently to help the unwary. But don’t rely on just one. Check http://www.stopfraud.gov and https://www.spamcop.net/ and http://www.consumerfraudreporting.org/reporting.php and others.
- Report abuses to the authorities. They can’t stop these kinds of crimes if they don’t know about them.
- Above all, take a deep breath. We live in a quick fix society, but there is nothing that is so urgent that it can’t be handled AFTER you know all the facts and checked out what price you’re going to pay after the deal is done.
- Go into that risky deal if you must. But, do it with your eyes wide open…after you know all the ground rules and after you understand what you stand to lose.
- Remember, there is no shame in being caught. The shame is in not doing due diligence.
The scammers play a numbers game. They often piggyback on what are otherwise legitimate solutions and programs designed to help such as us. They are marketers who know the game well. They understand the power of emotion and fear. They understand the desperation that comes from having your back to the wall. And they know how to bide their time. They don’t need to scam everyone. They cream the market for the most vulnerable – all it takes is one or two or a half dozen.
More important, it’s not that difficult to escape their clutches.