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A new crisis hits those who are down

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By The Staff

We have a water crisis. And an economic crisis. And an unemployment crisis. And now, sad to say, we have another problem to face: the scam crisis. Make that plural. There are many scams out there.

In addition to the Madoffs and the Ponzis and the fly-by-nights that drive through neighborhoods paving driveways and repairing roofs with inferior materials, our local officials are bringing to our attention newer scams that could affect many in our community.

Capt. Jimmy Burke’s column today refers to the scam artist who is targeting those applying for unemployment. Not only do the scam artists in this situation end up charging money for services that are free to the unemployed – if they do the filing themselves – but they end up with the unemployed person’s social security number, which opens up dozens of other possible problems for someone already down on their luck.

Another group the scammers are targeting at present are those whose homes are facing foreclosure.

Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida (CLSMF) issued a warning this week to Floridians who are facing foreclosure to beware of offers to modify their mortgages for a fee.

“Some companies charge upfront fees for services homeowners can get for free by visiting a nonprofit counselor or by talking directly with their lender,” warned Bill Abbuehl, Executive Director of CLSMF, “and some companies may charge the homeowner a fee but fail to deliver any services”.

Abbuehl said there are many companies popping up that charge upfront fees and take the money and run. He said the scammers usually submit an application that gets rejected and then walk away with the upfront fee.

There are legitimate agencies that provide a needed consumer service with a high success rate, he said – pointing out, for example, the services offered by the office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which provides free services for mortgage relief.

Scams are as old as the ages (remember the Biblical story of how Jacob stole his brother, Esau’s birthright?) and new ways to fool new generations will always crop up.

The trite expression that “if it’s too good to be true, it usually is” can go a long way towards avoiding the scam artist.

However, too many are still susceptible. 

Marion County has agencies to call to report suspected scams. A call to one of these numbers could help avoid major problems:  800-203-3099  or 352-873-6377 (Seniors vs. Crime); 352-843-1499 (Crime Stoppers).

Don’t be among those who are hit with a crisis that can be prevented – that of being scammed.