If you are looking to borrow money, be aware that con artists may be looking to steal money from you! How? By getting you to pay them an upfront fee or by tricking you into divulging personal information such as your Social Security number, which they can use to commit identity theft. FDIC Consumer News has a few tips to help you protect yourself.
Deal only with reputable lenders. Start by verifying the legitimacy of any unfamiliar person or business offering to make you a loan. Be especially wary of unsolicited loan offers that sound too good to pass up or demand that you act fast. Consider researching the reputation and qualifications of a prospective lender, perhaps by checking with your state Attorney General's office or your state or local consumer affairs office. Many state and local offices allow you to search for complaints or they may be able to direct you to other resources, such as agencies that can verify if a contractor is properly licensed. You can also determine whether an unfamiliar bank is insured by calling the FDIC at 1-877-275-3342 and asking to speak with a Deposit Insurance Specialist.
Be extra cautious when you are dealing with a promotion on the Internet or over the phone. While most reputable lenders are on the Internet offering everything from basic information to loan referrals to loan applications, scam artists also have websites promising ways to get you a loan or credit card.
"Crooks can easily create bogus websites that look just like real bank websites, with offers of attractive loan terms and deals and little or no credit checks," said Michael Benardo, Manager of the FDIC's Cyber Fraud and Financial Crimes Section. "The idea is to lure people in to collect standard information for a loan application – such as a full name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and employment history – because those details could be used to commit identity theft."
Beware of mortgage foreclosure and loan modification scams. If you are facing foreclosure or trying to modify an existing mortgage loan to make it easier to repay, decline offers from anyone who "guarantees" he or she will "save" your home, obtain a loan approval or lower your mortgage interest rate, usually for a fee. No one can guarantee in advance that a mortgage assistance application will be approved. And collecting upfront fees to cover processing or administrative costs may be illegal, depending on the circumstances.
In addition, if someone is pressuring you to sign over the title to your home or to sign documents that you haven't had time to read, it's best to decline the offer. By complying, you may be giving away ownership of your home.
Better choices when looking into options to refinance your home include contacting your loan servicer – the company that collects the monthly payment for your mortgage, property taxes and insurance – to find out if you may qualify for any programs to prevent foreclosure or modify your loan without paying a fee. If your mortgage was sold to Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac on or before May 31, 2009, you may be eligible to refinance at a lower interest rate through the federal government'sHome Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) even if your home has decreased in value.
Also consider talking to a professional at a reputable housing counseling agency that will provide free or low-cost help if you're having trouble paying your mortgage. For a referral to a counseling agency approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), good places to start are HUD (1-800-569-4287 orwww.hud.gov/offices/hsg/sfh/hcc/hcs.cfm) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (1-855-411-2372 or www.consumerfinance.gov/find-a-housing-counselor).
To learn more about preventing mortgage fraud, see the Fall 2013 FDIC Consumer News or visit the federal government's Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force's website.
Avoid frauds targeting consumers who are in the market for a new credit card. "Even though you may be asking for a new card, a thief may try to trick you into divulging credit card account numbers and other information associated with your existing account, including the expiration date on the front and the card verification code number on the back of the credit card," Benardo explained. "This information is valuable to fraudsters because it can be used to create a counterfeit version of your card or to make purchases online or over the phone."
Never give out your credit card account number in response to an unsolicited e-mail, text message or phone call. Follow our advice above about dealing only with lenders that are legitimate. And review your credit card bills as soon as you receive them and report to your card issuer right away if you find anything suspicious, such as an unauthorized charge.
To learn more about protecting yourself from credit-related frauds, search by topic in back issues of FDIC Consumer News, on the Federal Trade Commission's Credit and Loans page, or at www.mymoney.gov.