Mortgage scams exploit new refinancing aid program: Internet Scambusters #491
Mortgage scams lead off a special Snippets issue this week, focusing on the latest tricks crooks use to con their victims.
Promising to solve your financial worries with things like phony jobs, debt payment relief, and prescription discounts is a favorites scammers' trick.
We also want to alert you again to a long-standing phishing scam linked to a supposed failure to turn up for jury duty.
Now, here we go...
Prescription, Jobs and Mortgage Scams Promise to Ease Money Worries
Mortgage scams are back in the headlines following the launch of the Federal Government's Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP).
We've got the details for you in this week's Snippets issue.
We'll also be taking a close-up look at how crooks are cashing in on the launch of the latest iPad model, and how others are fooling people into paying for prescription services and discounts that they can actually get for free.
And an "old favorite" has recently resurfaced in the shape of a scam in which victims are accused of failing to turn up for jury duty.
Read on to learn more.
HARP Mortgage Scams
The HARP refinancing package, launched last December, is supposed to offer help to people whose homes are now worth less than the mortgages the owners have on them -- "underwater" homes as they're called.
Within just a few months of the launch of HARP, dozens of Internet sites have appeared supposedly offering to help homeowners use the program.
Many of these are from companies charging a fee for their services, which is bad enough, but some of these mortgage scams involve homeowners being told they have to sign over title to their home if they want to stay in it.
In other cases, homeowners have been advised to redirect their payments to the scam firms, stop paying their mortgage, or to file for bankruptcy, none of which will avoid a foreclosure and all of which will wreck credit records.
Action: If you're looking to refinance under the HARP program, visit MakingHomeAffordable.gov -- the official site for the program, or call 888-995-HOPE (4673).
Watch out for websites with similar or official-sounding names.
Also, work with your lender to solve problems -- don't make payments or upfront fees to anyone else -- and never sign over your home to another individual or organization who promises this will solve your mortgage problems.
Learn more about refinancing scams from our earlier issues.
Free Prescription Scams
On the subject of official-sounding names, a number of websites have been set up with words like "bureau" and "service" in their names, seeming to offer discount prescription packages.
Some of them, too, use the word "free," implying they'll get your prescriptions without charge.
What these scammers are really doing is charging a fee, usually $10 or $20, to supply victims with a list of legitimate organizations that do, in fact, arrange prescription discounts, or to connect them with free pharmaceutical industry programs for low-income patients.
Although the discounters themselves may be perfectly legal, they often don't secure price cuts any better than you'd get through drug manufacturers' or state prescription subsidy programs.
We've written about these discounters before. Many of them also charge for "membership." Be sure to read our article: The Truth About the Saliva Test and the Discount Medical Card.
In some cases, victims who handed over their $20 to the scam companies actually got nothing back at all.
Action: Don't pay to get information about drug discounts.
If you need help, find out about Patient Assistance Programs (PAPs), operated by more than 75 pharmaceutical companies.
There doesn't seem to be a reliable central database of these programs, so talk to your doctor, speak to your state health department, or check the manufacturers' websites to find out more.
Fake iPad "Mules" Scam
The popularity of Apple's iPad tablet and the recent launch of the latest model have sparked a new wave of fake iPad scams.
Most of these are the sort we've written about previously -- mainly "bargain" prices for non-existent machines.
For these, it's a simple matter of applying the "too good to be true" rule to avoid being scammed.
But one new and particularly nasty trick uses victims as accomplices or "mules" to pull off their iPad scam.
They advertise online for "mystery shoppers" whose task is supposedly to return an iPad to a store for a refund, which they then have to wire back to their "employer."
Trouble is, the iPads, which have been bought by the crooks, have been removed, resold and replaced with a chunk of clay.
The boxes are then resealed and sent to the mule for return to a big box type electronics store.
The scam doesn't become apparent until the item is then resold by the store.
Action: There is no such iPad-return "mystery shopper" job and, if you become involved, you could end up on the wrong side of the law.
Return of the Jury Duty Scam
You may have recently seen an email that is currently making the rounds warning about a phone call that tells victims they are about to be fined or arrested for failing to respond to a jury duty call.
The email is legit but the scam has been around for many, many years and we've reported on it a couple of times before in our article, Brand New Jury Duty Scam.
The jury scam is actually a phishing trick. What the scammers are after is personal, confidential information.
When the victim protests that they didn't receive a jury duty notice, the scammer asks for their Social Security number and date of birth so the supposed enforcement action can be cancelled.
Action: The jury service doesn't operate this way and you should never give out this sort of information to an incoming call.
The FBI issued a full alert on this scam back in 2006. Check out their article: The Verdict: Hang Up, Don't Fall for Jury Duty Scam.
That's a wrap for this week's Snippets issue. But there's no end to the torrent of scams out there.
Be on your guard. Don't be hoodwinked by slick tricks like prescription discount and mortgage scams.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!