Politics and Real Estate: Beware of New Scams!

Joan Shaffer August 7, 2016 Buyers Practical Tips Sellers

Unfortunately, the “Do Not Call” registry does not apply to political calls – so brace yourself for an onslaught of solicitations between now and the November elections.

Another thing to brace yourself for is the possibility of being scammed – as you attempt to support a favorite candidate or party. As a result, consumer watchdog organizations nationwide are warning consumers of political scams and cons that are expected to increase in the weeks to come.

The Pollster Call:

Bogus opinion pollers will try to get personal information from you such as your Social Security number or a credit card number, under the guise of verifying that you are a registered voter.

They may also try to ply you with a promise of a prize at the end of the poll. After conducting the poll, they may transfer you to another operator who will offer  you  a “free” vacation package. Beware: the travel package is anything but free. The operator may also ask you to make a donation to a specific political party or action committee to gain your card.

It’s important to remember these three things:

  1. Legitimate polling companies will never offer prized for participating in a telephone survey.
  2. Legitimate polling companies will never ask you for your Social Security number or credit card number.
  3. Never give financial information to an unsolicited call.

The Fake Caller ID:

The Better Business Bureau and other watchdog organizations are reminding consumers that Caller ID can be tricked through a technique called “spoofing” to make it appear that the call is coming from a candidate. Recordings of the candidate can also be used as a part of the scam.

The basic scam starts with a scammers spoofing a candidate’s phone number so that the call seems to come from campaign headquarters – inviting you to join a virtual “town hall” meeting with a candidate. The meeting sounds legitimate because the scammers have either patched together portions of previous town halls or may use a talented voice actor to imitate the candidate. At a certain point, the call is interrupted and you’re asked to press #1 to make a donation. By this time your emotions are involved and you think, “Yes! I want to support my candidate!”  So you give out your credit card number. Not only have you handed over your money to an unknown entity, you have opened the door to identity theft.

So what can you do?

Whenever you receive a telephone call, you can never be sure as to who is really contacting you, so you should never give personal or financial information to anyone over the phone that you have not called. If you do wish to contribute to a political candidate’s campaign, the best way to do this is by going to the candidate’s official website and make your contribution. Even then, make sure that when you are giving your donation online that the website address begins with “https” instead of just http. Https indicates that your communication is being encrypted for better security.

Real Estate Scams:

During the housing bubble, many real estate scams reached a feverish pitch. When the bubble burst, many of those same swindlers simply set their sights on cash-strapped folks facing foreclosure. Unfortunately, as housing recovered and technology evolved, real estate scams have not subsided. Rather, despite government initiatives on both the federal and state level, they’ve blossomed into more elaborate and sophisticated ploys.

Here’s a rundown of some of the most suspicious scenarios plaguing real estate and how to avoid them:

Vacation and Home Rental Scams:

Scammers advertise properties that they don’t actually own on classified ad websites, such as Craigslist, with attractive pictures and detailed descriptions. Typically, they associate the ads with desirable areas and offer prices well below local rental averages. Instead of in-country phone-based contact, scammers use VOIP numbers from foreign countries and text messaging to communicate with buyers and renters. All payments are requested via non-returnable methods like MoneyGram, Western Union and wire transfers.

The Federal Trade Commission lists rental scam warning signs on its website: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0079-rental-listing-scams

They also suggest consumers be wary if told to wire money; if asked for a security deposit before signing a lease; or are told the “owner” is out of the country and can’t show the property.

Advice: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. So stick to working with known and reputable companies. Even if you’re dealing with an individual you don’t know, when renting a property, there are things you can do to protect your financial interest. The FTC website shown above has an outstanding article entitled:

“10 Things You Can Do To Avoid Fraud”.

You’ll also find information on how to report a scam to the FTC.

Loan Modifications:

It’s a lot easier to be “taken” than you think. From companies claiming to do loan modification and just about any real estate service, a fake company can easily utilize website addresses that look somewhat official, incorporating elements of a government program name into the url or even the term “gov”.

What Can You Do?

Be informed! Work only with reputable companies – and don’t respond to unsolicited assistance. Here’s an informative website for more on this topic:

https://www.loanscamalert.org/common-scams.aspx

Here’s another outstanding website offering information on a wider array of scams, and what you can do to protect yourself:

https://www.usa.gov/scams-and-frauds

A smart consumer is an informed consumer

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