Warning: Bad economy good for scammers

March 5, 2009 3:21:30 PM PST
The troubled economy has spurred a rash of consumer complaints involving mortgages and credit repair services. The state's attorney general warns consumers to use caution with companies offering to help fix financial problems. Complaints involving consumer debt in Illinois are up 28 percent from 2007.

Identity theft is No. 2 on the state's list of top consumer complaints. But officials warn there are people looking to take advantage of the current economic climate.

The bad economy offers scammers a field day to pray on people desperate for help.

Jennifer Smith is in the market for a new home. She recently qualified for a mortgage despite being scammed. Thursday she stood with local officials warning people to avoid being taken. Smith says she gave a company $400 to improve her credit, but she says they didn't.

"It's like I gave my money to a ghost. Because after he got my check, he disappeared and I saw no results," said Smith.

The warnings come from several agencies as it is National Consumer Protection Week.

"Unfortunately, there are a lot of crooks that are out there to steal what little money some hard-pressed fellow citizens, neighbors, have got left," said Steve Baker, Federal Trade Commission.

Local agencies are offering free information at consumer fair at the Thompson Center.

The agencies report the most common scams involve consumer debt are:

  • residential mortgage lending
  • actions by collection agencies
  • credit cards with unexpected fees and rate changes

Local officials also warn against new scams regarding President Obama's stimulus package.

"The scammers follow the news just like we do. They're good at it. They follow the trend. They know what's going on and they try to exploit any way they possibly can," said Steve Bernas, Better Business Bureau.

"We're talking about, you know, hundreds of billions of dollars. Everybody would like some money. The reality is, if someone's approaching you and telling you that you're getting money from the stimulus program, you're not getting money," said Lisa Madigan, Illinois attorney general.

Jennifer Smith learned her lesson. She says she did improve her credit by herself and next time will do her homework before giving anyone money.

All of the agencies represented Thursday see increasing numbers of foreclosure scams. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says if someone offers you foreclosure help but they want money up front, she says, it's more than likely a scam. She urges homeowners in trouble to seek free help from HUD-certified organizations and her office.