Although crime rates have fallen and the United States has generally become a much safer place in the last several decades, financial fraud is still a serious concern. Many seniors have accumulated great wealth over the years, which unfortunately means that modern scammers have chosen seniors as a major target for their crimes. To protect yourself and your family from the dangers of financial abuse, read on to learn about common housing scams and countermeasures you can take to prevent them.
Beware Moving Fraud
Although the majority of moving companies are honest businesses with respectable work ethic, some opportunistic outliers may try to take advantage of clients using crooked means. In order to avoid getting overcharged or cheated by unscrupulous movers, consider the following tactics. If worst comes to worst, file a dispute with your state’s local regulatory agency. When you have a dispute with a mover that crosses state lines, report to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) instead.
- Get written estimates. Before committing to any particular moving company, get a written estimate. Some companies may try to scam you by quoting a low price over the phone and then asking for a substantially higher sum before loading your items onto the truck. Getting a written estimate beforehand may help to decrease the likelihood that this happens.
- Make sure the mover is insured and licensed. For moves that cross state lines, companies must be federally authorized by the FMSCSA. Likewise, even moves within states must be regulated by local state agencies.
- Check their public record. A mover’s complaint history will often be available through public channels. For instance, try looking into their business practices on sites such as the Better Business Bureau.
Keep an Eye Out for Foreclosure Scams
Sometimes, when homeowners are struggling to meet their mortgage obligations, predatory scammers will try to take advantage of the situation. For a fee, these kinds of scammers will often promise that they can prevent foreclosure and allow you to keep your home. Unfortunately, they do not keep the promise. These kinds of scammers often find their victims through the following means:
- Advertisements in local publications
- Distributing flyers
Furthermore, be aware that there are multiple kinds of foreclosure scams. A few of the most common include: offers to negotiate with your lender, advises that they can help you prevent foreclosure by filing for bankruptcy, requests you to sign over the title of your home, promises to act as your intermediary when negotiating a refinance of your loan, claims to have an affiliation with government-sponsored loan modification programs, encourages you to sign fake foreclosure rescue documents, and claims that they can perform a forensic mortgage loan audit to help you keep the home. If you need to report a foreclosure scam, contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Watch Out for Predatory Lending
Most mortgage lenders are trustworthy and offer valuable services. But, dishonest and opportunistic lenders may try to take advantage of your misfortune. In some cases, they may even pursue practices that could increase the likelihood that you lose your home. Here are a few of the ways by which predatory lenders, mortgage brokers, and home improvement contractors may cause serious problems:
- Selling properties for more than they are worth by using false appraisals.
- Encouraging borrowers to lie about income and available cash in order to get a loan.
- Knowingly lending more than a borrower will be able to repay.
- Charging high interest rates based on factors unrelated to credit history.
- Charging unnecessary and abusive fees for services that do not exist.
In order to protect yourself from the perils of predatory lending, learn as much as you can about the home-buying process. For example, try attending a homeownership education course offered by a government-approved counseling agency. Interview multiple real estate agents and check for references before choosing one to help you select a home. Learn the prices of other homes in the neighborhood so that you aren’t charged an exorbitant sum. When you’re ready to buy a home, consider hiring a qualified inspector to identify any required repairs before actually making the purchase. When deciding on a lender, shop around and compare costs before choosing.
Avoid Rental Scams
When a property owner misrepresents themselves – or the terms of a rental property – they can cause severe problems for tenants. When you’re looking for a new apartment or rental property, make sure to watch out for the following signs of a scam:
- The advertised price of the property is much lower than similar options.
- Ads for the property have spelling errors and appear unprofessional.
- The person attempting to rent you the property claims to be an agent for an owner that is mysteriously unavailable to contact.
- The owner/agent requires that you sign the lease before you see the property.
- The owner/agent charges you a fee to view the property.
- You are asked to wire money as part of your rent payment. Be aware that wiring money is equivalent to giving cash. This means that you won’t be able to get a refund even if you find out that it was a scam.
- The owner/agent uses high-pressure sales tactics and urges you to rent before someone else gets the property.
- The person preparing the lease includes higher rent payments or fees that you did not agree to.