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State warns of rising phone, Internet scams

New York's top prosecutor has warned consumers to beware of a couple of scams that are causing a rise in complaints, one involving the national mortgage servicing and foreclosure settlement and the other concerning fraudulent rental properties on Craigslist.

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman issued the alerts about the telephone and Internet scams.

The mortgage settlement fraud capitalizes on the recent national settlement among five major mortgage servicing companies, the federal government and 49 states. Scammers impersonating bank or government officials are claiming to offer assistance relating to the settlement as a way of luring people into providing personal or financial information.

The callers say they can facilitate a payment if the victim provides a bank account routing number. They also offer to help with a loan modification for a fee or ask for other personal information that can lead to identity theft.

The state noted that neither banks nor federally approved housing counseling agencies charge a fee for settlement assistance, so homeowners should be wary of unsolicited calls and of offers to speed up settlement help for a fee.

"Homeowners and former homeowners who have been abused by their mortgage servicers deserve financial relief, but some despicable con artists are instead seeking to victimize these New Yorkers again," Schneiderman said in a news release, which announced a set of tips and an informational website,

"The best defense against any scam is information, and that's why we're offering these tips about mortgage settlement scams that have already surfaced."

Among the tips:

* Be skeptical of online ads or telephone solicitations promising to modify your mortgage or save your home. Only your bank or loan servicer can do that.

* Do not give out personal information to a solicitor; your bank will have that information.

* Never pay an advance fee for mortgage-related services. Such fees are illegal under state law.

With the Craigslist scam, the state is reporting a "spike in reports" from consumers about frauds that lure consumers into paying security deposits for properties advertised on the popular website, only to find the listings are fake. Losses have ranged from $200 to $6,000.

In some cases, scammers use Realtors' listings to find properties that are for sale but change the contact information and offer the properties for rent. Many scams will offer a telephone number without a working voicemail, forcing consumers to use email. The emails are "typically poorly written" and may say the homeowner is "on a humanitarian mission" abroad.

They typically ask for a deposit to be wired before the "landlord" will send a key.

In one case, a Buffalo family seeking to move to New York City found a listing for an apartment and had to put down nearly $6,000 for the first and last months' rent and security. But when they got to New York, they found their "new home" was an abandoned warehouse.

"While these offers look appealing, prospective renters must have a critical eye when applying for rental properties on sites like Craigslist," Schneiderman said. "Remember the simple adage: If it looks and sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

He also noted that many of these scams start overseas, so prosecution is difficult.

Schneiderman urged consumers to make sure they know who owns the advertised property by checking county clerk records and to research the person or company they're dealing with to see if there have been complaints. Check the Better Business Bureau and consider using real estate agents or rental agencies instead. And never wire money at a potential landlord's request or send a scan of your passport or other identification.

If you've been victimized by a scam, notify the state at (800) 771-7755 or at