Many of these scams prey on current fears about bank safety, mortgage foreclosure, and the credit crisis. Learn how to protect yourself as we expose 10 popular scams being run right now.
1. Phishing scams related to the financial crisis
According to the Federal Trade Commission, there is a new round of email scams out there that are tied to the financial crisis. Many of these emails "phish" for personal information -- your Social Security number, account numbers, passwords, etc. The scammer then uses that info to steal your identity.
Proceed with extreme caution if you get an email that purports to be from your mortgage company, a government agency, or other official institution. If the email is requesting ANY personal information, you know it's a scam. No government or reputable financial institution will ask you to share confidential information in an email.2. Scams related to the banking crisis
The banking crisis is presenting scammers with another golden opportunity. We're hearing numerous complaints about official-looking emails that claim to be from a bank or from the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation). These emails prey on your fears, claiming your bank is in trouble or that money has been stolen from your account. Most ask for your personal information, which they then use to steal your identity or illegally access your account.
If you receive an email from your bank requesting any personal information, contact your bank immediately and do not respond to the email.
3. Home rescue scams
With today's housing troubles, mortgage rescue scams are crawling out of the woodwork. These scams target people who fear losing their home and ruining their credit because of foreclosure. A "real estate investor" contacts you and offers to bring your payments current if you'll sign over the deed. He offers to keep making the payments in the future. You'll need to move out so he can rent the house, but you won't have a foreclosure on your credit.
Here's what really happens: the "investor" will rent the house to someone else alright, but he'll never make a payment on your mortgage. Eventually, the bank will foreclose, you get the black mark on your credit and the renter will be evicted. The only one who gains here is the "investor," who collected his free rent.
4. Mortgage renegotiation scams
A smooth-talking salesperson tells you he can renegotiate your mortgage with your lender and help you keep your house. He'll require a fee (as much as $1,000 or more) before he can start, of course!
Problem is, the "deal" he gets is one that you could have gotten on your own, and it probably won't be enough to keep you in your home. However, because he was "successful" in getting the loan renegotiated, he has technically earned his fee and there's little that you can do about it.
The lesson here is you don't have to pay someone else to negotiate with your mortgage company. If you're having problems making your payments, contact your lender and tell them you need to renegotiate your loan. You have nothing to lose, and – believe us – they don't want to foreclose!
5. Fake check scams
Everyone is looking for a little extra money these days. But if you get a check in the mail that you weren't expecting, don't get excited-and don't cash it. It could be one of the many "fake check" scams going around.
These scams involve everything from claiming you won the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes to offering you work as a "mystery shopper." But they all have one thing in common: you receive a check – a real-looking check, payable to YOU – for several thousand dollars. They tell you the money is to pay for contest fees, or is your fee for being a mystery shopper. They ask you to deposit the check and then wire them most of the money back.
But here's the kicker ...
6. Fake check scams, part 2
That check they gave you is no good and will bounce eventually. When it does, you are left holding the bag for the amount you wired plus a bounced check fee plus the wire transfer fee!
Here are a few warning signs to spot this kind of scam before you get taken:
A. The check will have the name and address of a company completely unrelated to the offer. Scam artists steal the name and account number of real companies so that the check won't bounce as soon as you deposit it.
B. Anytime you are asked to wire money at someone else's request, it's a big red flag.
C. No legitimate company requires you to send money to enter a contest.
7. Advance-fee credit card scam
In today's tight credit market, getting a new credit card is becoming more difficult. That means this next scam is only going to get more popular and it's going to cost consumers millions.
The gimmick is simple: get a $7,500 credit limit with an unsecured card – guaranteed, regardless of your income or credit history. All you have to do is send in a "processing fee" of $79 to $99. Of course, the credit card never comes.
We don't know of a single legitimate credit card issuer that collects its annual fee before the credit card is approved or issued. Never, EVER agree to pay a fee in advance!
8. Credit repair scam
Most of the claims that these "credit repair" companies make are downright false. The simple truth is nobody can legally remove accurate and timely negative information from your credit report. Nobody!
There are no shortcuts to rebuilding your credit report. If you do have legitimate mistakes on your credit report, you can work with the credit bureaus on your own – for free! – without getting a credit repair company involved.
9. Work at home
More and more people are trying to find ways to make extra money, so we're hearing a steady drumbeat about "work at home" scams. Most of these scams all try to accomplish the same thing, though, and that's to get an "application" or "initiation fee" out of you.
You will be asked to pay $49 to $99 for the privilege of being added to their group, but of course, there's no real work to be had. Once they get your money, you never hear from them again!
Never, ever give any of these work-at-home companies any money in advance.
10. Fake emails that prey on your good nature
This is the time of year that many charities will be asking you to open your hearts and wallets to help others in need. And scam artists are right in the mix to take advantage of your charitable nature.
Beware emails that appear to come from big charities such as Red Cross and UNICEF. These scams use images and domain names that are so close to the real thing it's VERY hard to tell the difference. But when you click a link to contribute, you're taken to a Web page that has NOTHING to do with the charity!
When in doubt, make your donation through the organization's Web site or use their toll-free number. Also, be sure to pay with your credit card to protect yourself from fraud!
Now that you know what to look for, please be sure to send this information to your friends and family so that they don't lose a penny to scam artists. If you have a scam you want to warn others about, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let personal finance experts Ken and Daria Dolan of Dolans.com show you ways to save money, protect your investments and avoid common money mistakes.