Consumer Fraud Continues to Grow
Consumer fraud continues to grow and the fraudsters continue to find new and innovative ways to separate you from your money. Consumer complaints include price gouging, phishing, ransom, emails, grandparent scams, romance and catfishing scams, phony debt collectors, subscriptions you never ordered, other violations of consumer protection laws and identity theft. There are even “insurance” scams to protect you from scammers! Anyone can easily fall victim. According to the Federal Trade Commission, 44% of people in their 20s have reported losing money to fraud. The purpose of the Federal Trade Commission and the New York State Consumer Protection Bureau is to stop unfair, deceptive and fraudulent business practices.
One area of fraud that is particularly concerning and difficult to understand involves Deed and Mortgage fraud. This may include collection of a mortgage that you paid off years ago, or possibly even a mortgage that you never took out. The homeowner may receive a threatening letter or phone call stating that payments need to be made although nothing is actually due. If something doesn’t look or sound quite right, don’t panic and don’t make any payment! Check it out as best you can. Ask someone trustworthy what they make of it. This may be someone hoping you simply start sending payments based on their demand.
If you are actually served with a “Summons and Complaint”, take this seriously and hire an attorney. You may be a victim of identity theft where a mortgage was fraudulently taken against your house — the scammer collected the cash value of the mortgage and disappeared. New York has seen an increase in foreclosure lawsuits being filed alleging that the homeowner has not made a payment. This is a case that can be successfully defended, but you must take action to protect yourself.
Recently, we have had clients ask us about a service called “Title Lock”. The advertisement states something like: “Home Title theft is a serious cyberthreat and growing problem that can and will affect you. Save yourself and your home – with TITLE LOCK. For as low as $15 a month……..”
Although the title (deed) to your home is an important document, this product doesn’t do anything significant for you and it is not insurance. Our Schenectady County Clerk provides a greater service to property owners by mailing a letter to the transferring homeowner notifying them that a deed has been filed. If you did transfer your deed, this is telling you nothing you didn’t already know. If this is not the case, you need to look into this further. Although rare, it is possible a scammer forged your name on a deed and filed it with the County Clerk. The point here is that you do not need to pay for monitoring that our County Clerk is already providing as a free consumer protection.
Your best protection is to stay vigilant and only deal with known companies. Review carefully any demand for payment and if it doesn’t sound right, don’t pay without further review. Even better, shop local.
Law Office of Kathleen M. Toombs
157 Barrett Street, Schenectady, New York 12305