Your AARP ; Maryland News
Fraud lurks when economy is shaky
Ways to Avoid Scammers
Claretta Taylor, 68, refinanced her Baltimore home in 2003 in the hopes of launching a dream—a
catering business. Today she lives a nightmare after a scam left her without her home.
She is one of thousands of Marylanders
swindled every year.
“This didn’t happen to me because I wasn’t
paying attention,” said Taylor, whose cater-
ing business didn’t get off the ground. “This
happened to me because I was vulnerable.”
After retiring as a medical transcrip-
tionist, she fell behind on her mortgage
payments in 2006 and sought help, but in
the wrong place. The loan modification
firm Taylor saw advertised on television
persuaded her to stop paying her mortgage
and stole her money instead of helping her
stay in her home as promised.
The company was prosecuted, but Taylor
didn’t get her house back.
In a video, Stealing Trust, Taylor and others
describe how they were duped. The Maryland
Consumer Rights Coalition (MCRC), which
sponsored the video, is distributing it to consumer groups, lawmakers and regulators.
AARP Maryland will show the film to
some of its chapters and cosponsor other
screenings with MCRC.
Foreclosure scams on the rise
“Right now, we’re concerned about foreclosure scams,” said Hank Greenberg, AARP
Maryland state director.
Marylanders filed nearly 600 mortgage
complaints in 2010 with the state Office of
the Commissioner of Financial Regulation,
which oversees financial institutions and
consumer lending. The Maryland Office
of the Attorney General, which prosecutes
a wider range of fraud, received roughly
7,100 fraud-related complaints in the first
nine months of this year.
“Scams are always prevalent and even
more so when the economy is tight and
people may be more willing to take a
chance,” said Karen Straughn, assistant
attorney general in the office’s Consumer
targeted because they are “more trusting.”
‘I lost everything’
“In loan modification cases, we seem to
be the last place [consumers] call instead
of the first place,” said Cynthia H. Jones,
an assistant commissioner in the Maryland
Office of the Commissioner of Financial
Regulation. Residents can call the office to
vet foreclosure and loan modification firms.
“In desperation to hold on to my home and
hold on to my car, I put my trust in [the
company],” Taylor said about her ordeal.
The man who ran the scam promised Tay-
lor she could stop paying her mortgage for
a year and keep her home. Instead, she said,
“I lost everything.”
“Trust but verify,” Marceline White,
MCRC executive director, advises consum-
ers. To avoid being swindled, consumer
fraud experts recommend:
; Don’t sign anything immediately.
; Don’t give your credit card information
over the phone unless you initiated the call
and have checked that the firm is legitimate.
; Register online with the national Do Not
Call list to block telephone solicitations.
; Place a temporary freeze on your credit
report to prevent identity thieves from
stealing your Social Security number. It can
be “unfrozen” when you apply for credit.
; Consider aggressive or high-pressured
sales pitches a red flag.
; Never pay upfront fees.
; Don’t stop paying your mortgage.
; Read “A Consumer Guide for Seniors”
at oag.state.md.us. For a printed copy, call
; Visit mdhope.org for legitimate counselors
on housing and foreclosure issues, and visit
nfcc.org for consumer debt issues.
; Visit aarp.org/money/scams-fraud for
articles about scams.
To arrange a screening of Stealing Trust,
—By Christopher J. Gearon
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