Following a natural disaster or during times of hardship, it's very important to recognize and avoid scams that can damage your credit, cause financial distress, and, in some cases, even cost you your home. Whether you're a renter or a homeowner, the best way to avoid pitfalls and traps is by staying informed. Here are common scams to be aware of:
"Consumers can protect themselves by remembering the two things fraudsters have in common: empty promises plus big fees, usually upfront."
Rental Fraud: Someone lists a fake rental on a website like Craigslist using other peoples' homes to illustrate the on-line ad. The fraudster requires you to send your security deposit and first month's rent via electronic transfer and then disappears with your money.
Post-Disaster Insurance Scam: In the wake of a disaster, someone offers you money now in exchange for money you will get later from the insurance company. You end up getting much less from the individual than the insurance company actually would have paid you or your home repair contractors directly.
Home Repair Loan Scam: A contractor requires money up front, but doesn't complete the work or uses inferior materials to what were contracted. In other cases, the contractor completes the work, but for well above the original estimate
Home Title Scam: Someone offers a loan or fast cash in exchange for the title to your home. You continue to pay the mortgage, but you are no longer the owner of the property. The scammer then sells your home for more than the money paid to you and you are at risk of eviction.
Equity-Skimming "Rescue" Scam: Someone offers to pay your delinquent mortgage by purchasing your home. In turn, you can stay in the home as a renter with the option to buy back the house when your financial situation improves. Then the "buyer" cashes out your hard-earned equity and disappears. Plus, you've lost title to your home and are risk of foreclosure.
Protect yourself against scam artists by meeting people face-to-face, asking questions, and verifying documents. And most importantly, trust your gut.