Scam Artists Adapt to Economic Crisis

While scams are always a concern of law enforcement, experts are warning that the tough economic climate may lead even more people than usual to fall victim to the sweet-sounding promises of scam artists.

“In tough times people are likely to be looking for attractive solutions to their problems, whether it is money-making schemes or bogus claims to save them from foreclosure,” says Frank Dorman, a spokesman for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Here are some scams that experts have seen become more prevalent during the credit crisis:

Promise of debt relief: Consumers hampered by consumer debt may be particularly vulnerable to claims that a company can remove a bankruptcy, cut debt in half or erase negative information from a credit report. The only way you can improve your credit score is by exhibiting sound financial habits over time, such as eliminating debt and paying bills on time. If a company asks for money to improve your financial picture or tells you to stop paying your bills, walk away, the FTC warns. If you need professional help with your debt, contact a company approved by either the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies.

Employment: With the unemployment rate at 6.7% and expected to grow, scam artists are targeting those who are unemployed with promises of work-at-home schemes and various business opportunities. However, with most of these fraudulent opportunities, you’ll be asked to cough up some money to get started. They also may make ridiculous claims, such as offering you the opportunity to make hundreds of thousands of dollars working only 15 hours per week. Some of these offers may come over the Internet, but some may crop up as you’re going about a legitimate job search.

“You can find ads for scams at places like where scam artists offer someone a job and rope them in,” says Paul Bresson, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Before agreeing to a business opportunity, check with the Better Business Bureau, your state attorney general, or a local consumer protection agency to see if there have been any complaints against the company, the FTC advises.  Also, ask for references from others who have benefited from the opportunity.

Foreclosure rescue and loan modification: The mortgage crisis has many Americans struggling to save their homes from foreclosure, giving scam artists plenty of potential victims to target. Some scam artists promise to save a home from foreclosure if the owner signs over his title to the con artist. Others contact homeowners with offers to refinance or modify their loans, only to trick the homeowner into signing paperwork that transfers ownership to the scam artist.

Yet another scam involves contacting a homeowner and offering to negotiate with the homeowner’s lender for a fee. While there are legitimate loan modification companies that can help you negotiate with your lender, be sure to utilize the services of counseling agencies approved