More than 11,000 complaints of mortgage fraud flooded the Federal Trade Commission in 2013, according to the FTC's Consumer Sentinel Data Book. Out of all the financial decisions you’ll make in your life, few are more consequential than a buying a home or refinancing a mortgage. In addition to wading through the maze of complicated decisions and processes, it is critical to work with a trustworthy partner. Law enforcement and regulators routinely catch firms and operators running scams to target unsuspecting consumers. In particular, schemes revolving around refinancing can prove costly to borrowers, so it pays to be informed about some of the common ways that scammers try and take advantage of consumers.
- Personal information in exchange for “special services.” If you receive a notice in the mail from a third-party (not your current lender or servicer) advertising a “special rate” or program in exchange for just some personal information (including your Social Security Number), or title information, be wary. A refinance or modification always includes the current lender, so it is possible this third-party is simply after your personal data for nefarious purposes.
- Never pay fees upfront. One of the ugliest scams occurs when predators seek out borrowers with troubled mortgages looking for a modification or help with high-interest rates. They advertise their unique knowledge or relationships with banks and demand up-front payments before they can help, which is illegal. Scammers will often try to skirt that law by suggesting that borrowers wire money overseas or pay in prepaid debit cards. Don’t fall for it.
- Beware of suspicious emails. Emails are often the preferred method of attack for fraudsters. If you receive a message from a bank (including yours) that looks to be legitimate, but is either unsolicited or seems suspicious in any way, don’t click any links. Check the URL and email address. Often these messages will contain links that will redirect you to a site built to collect sensitive personal financial information that could cost you dearly. Instead of clicking, call the bank directly and find out if the message is legitimate or not.
Click here to read more on the subject from Deborah Kearns at NerdWallet, including several resources you can turn to for help.