Buyer be wary

Job and debt-relief trickery join list of popular local 2010 scams

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It’s a jungle out there, economically, and in 2010 lurking predators picked off many unsuspecting Sacramentans—particularly the high number of job seekers and those struggling financially.

The Better Business Bureau—a watchdog group—just released its list of top 2010 scams. With the economy in poor shape, new additions to the BBB’s annual list included schemes to trick people looking for work or needing debt help. Also on the list were such common cons as lottery and sweepstake schemes, itinerant roofers or home repairers who did not deliver, misleading free trial offers and identity theft.

“We have multiple victims of [all the scams], but we get 10 calls a day about fake lottery schemes and mystery shopping alone,” said Katie Robison, a spokeswoman for the BBB. “Advance fee loan scams are also huge in [the Sacramento] area.”

Kim Hunt, who works for a local medical company, can speak to this from experience.

In 2008, Hunt shelled out $5,000 in advance fees to a company promising her help with refinancing her mortgage. The business, which she first learned about in a gospel-radio-station advertisement, also came recommended by her uncle. After she made an inquiry, company officials visited her home to discuss lowering her mortgage payments.

Although she initially paid them to start the process, the promised services never surfaced. Her uncle was also duped.

“Do your homework and know what you are getting into,” Hunt told SN&R.

Her story doesn’t surprise Robison, who noted that debt relief and settlement complaints to the BBB rose by 30 percent in 2010.

“Typically, the company promises consumers [that] the loan modification or debt negotiation or loan is guaranteed, and the advance fee will be used for initial processing of paperwork,” Robison explained to SN&R. “[Companies] often verbally promise a refund if the loan modification or loan doesn’t go through. However, in the contract, the company will have a clause that says something to the effect [of] ‘no refunds.’”

Due to the high number of people looking for work, Robison added that a common scheme is to advertise help with finding a job for $15-$100, and then deliver a list of jobs that one could easily find for free online.

Another particularly devious con is the overpayment scam. In this scheme, small businesses or landlords are typically overpaid for a product or service. The client then asks for the extra money back, even though their original check was actually forged.

With such tricks in mind, Robison echoes Hunt’s advice. “Check out each company. … Know their track record before doing business with them,” she said.