Jury Duty Scam

The St. Johns County Clerk of Courts is warning against a jury duty scam.  It goes something like this:  you get a phone call from somebody posing as a court employee informing you that you have missed jury duty, and they ask you for personal information for verification.  They may even say that a warrant has been issued for your arrest. It is better to serve jury duty than to serve a scammer.  Do not provide your personal information to a scammer. They call looking for information like your Social Security Number and date of birth, which they can use to steal your identity.  According to the St. Johns County Clerk of Courts website (http://www.clk.co.st-johns.fl.us/jury/jury.html), “Clerk’s Office employees within the Jury Management division never make such calls.”  The initial jury duty notifications as well as follow-up notices are sent via the US Postal Service. Read More

Do Not Get Punked by a Ponzi Scheme

A Ponzi Scheme is only popular with the person running it…everybody else does not know.  Do not get punked by a Ponzi Scheme—know the signs to be suspicious. A Ponzi Scheme is an investment plan where the money does not get invested, and the returns come from funds collected from new investors.  Works fine until there are not enough new “investors,” then returns start to fail, and victims can lose the principal they put in as well as any expected interest. The US Securities and Exchange Commission offers these Ponzi Scheme warning signs: High returns with little or no risk. Every investment carries some degree of risk, and investments yielding higher returns typically involve more risk. Be highly suspicious of any “guaranteed” investment opportunity. Overly consistent returns. Investments tend to go up and down over time. Be skeptical about an investment that regularly generates positive returns regardless of overall market conditions. Unregistered investments. Ponzi schemes typically involve investments that are not registered with the SEC or with state regulators. Registration is important because it provides investors with access to information about the company’s management, products, services, and finances. Unlicensed sellers. Federal and state securities laws require investment professionals and firms to be licensed or […] Read More

Foreclosure Rescue Scams

Aside from bodily harm to you and your family, what is a fate worse than home foreclosure?  Answer:  Foreclosure Rescue Scam.  In one minute of your time, the Federal Trade Commission can give you the basics of how to avoid such a catastrophe in a free online audio at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/media/audio-0037-foreclosure-rescue-scams. If you are facing foreclosure, there are choices.  In St. Johns County, St. Johns Housing Partnership (SJHP) has a variety of housing programs available and offers free counseling with HUD certified counselors. SJHP is non-profit agency whose services are offered to the public regardless of income.  They work with borrowers living in million dollar homes as well as those eligible for Legal Aid.  Their HUD certified counselors are sensitive to what their clients are going through, and they are knowledgeable and experienced negotiating with lenders.  To learn more about St. Johns Housing Partnership, contact them at (904) 819-1266 (www.sjhp.org ).   Read More

Looking for Mr. Right Online? Look Out for Mr. Gold-Digger

Looking for Prince Charming online?  He may be looking for money.  The Federal Trade Commission has a one-minute audio tip to help you avoid the financial warts of online dating at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/media/audio-0043-online-dating-scams.  Do not date a gold-digger…unless that is what you are into.  Have a good weekend!   Read More

Beware of Up-Front Fees in Foreclosure Rescue

If a foreclosure rescue scheme seems too good to be true, it could cost you a lot. The legislature passed the Foreclosure Rescue Fraud Prevention Act in 2008.  This act specifies that no fees are to be paid by the borrower until the rescue services are fully rendered, and that a written contract with terms and conditions has to be signed by both parties before services begin.  Furthermore by 2010, anyone performing loan modification services had to have an active license from the Florida Office of Financial Regulation. Besides up-front fees, other things to look out for when you are looking for hope include: Instruction NOT to contact your lender, lawyer or credit or housing counselor Payment only accepted in cashier’s check or wire transfer Guarantee to stop foreclosure no matter what Encouragement for you to lease your home so you can buy it back over time Mortgage payments to be made directly to the company rather than your lender Request for you to transfer your property title to the company The Florida Bar cautions: ‘If any business or individual offers to help you stop foreclosure immediately by signing a document authorizing them to act on your behalf or to […] Read More

Chicken Little & Scammy Sammy

Once upon a time Chicken Little had a timeshare to sell.  It had been on the market for months when low and behold one day he got a phone call from Sammy Salesman:  “Have I got a deal for you!” Sammy declared.  Sammy promised a quick sale of the timeshare (within 60 to 90 days) for an upfront fee of only a few hundred dollars.  Chicken Little was hesitant, however, to jump to a snap decision after the whole sky-falling fiasco. “The sky is not falling,” Sammy Salesman said, “you know that and I know that, but the buyer on the other line does not know whether you are serious about selling your timeshare, and he is waiting on your answer right now.” “Well gee, Sammy,” said Chicken Little, “I just do not have that kind of cash on me to pay your fee.” “No problem!” said Sammy.  “You can charge the fee to your credit card over the phone.” And with that, Chicken Little whipped out his wallet and made the second worst decision of his life.  He did not get his timeshare sold, and he had given out his credit card information.  Scammy Sammy had the funds faster […] Read More

Stern, Madoff, & Cladek – Where Are They Now?

Here are a few figures who used to make headlines (and money)…not so much anymore:  David Stern, Bernie Madoff, and Lydia Cladek.  The masks they wore to hide their fraudulent features have obscured them from public decency. If you are looking for a Halloween costume, a robo-signer festooned by David Stern is pretty scary—signing off on home foreclosures without even glancing at the files, trampling like a zombie through paperwork that would part people from their homes.  In lawsuits filed this year, Stern is the defendant against his partner firm, DJSP Enterprises, as well as against a class action brought by his former employees for lack of adequate notice when they were all fired in 2010 prior to the collapse of Stern’s business in 2011. The Bernie Madoff mask would be a fright with his trick-and-no-treat Ponzi scheme on the scale of $20 billion in fraud to investors.  Madoff is currently occupied serving his 150-year prison sentence.  Though he claimed he acted alone, his brother, Peter Madoff, plead guilty this summer to conspiracy and falsifying records in the scheme, which raises suspicion of further family involvement, including his wife, daughter, and remaining son.  Furthermore, prosecutors have dug back to the […] Read More

Magic Mortgage Scams

Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and watch your money disappear!  Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi recently put the brakes on a group of businesses pulling a vanishing act on homeowners’ money for a supposedly ‘guaranteed’ result of a voided upside-down mortgage.  For a $3,500 up-front fee, a Florida homeowner could learn that there was no equity rabbit in the hat, except Bondi’s temporary injunction has closed the show until further notice. (Companies listed in the complaint include:  Florida Home Rescue Mission and American Federal Trust, LLC; EsqLitigationSupport.Com, LLC; Zion Partners Irrevocable Trust, LLC; and Zion Partners Irrev Trust, LLC.) Homeowners under the big top of negative equity are vulnerable to mortgage relief scams…and fraud comes in many forms.  The Federal Trade Commission lists the following red flags to avoid when seeking foreclosure prevention help: Guarantee to stop foreclosure no matter what Instructions NOT to contact your lender, lawyer, or credit or housing counselor Up-front fee prior to providing services Payment accepted only in cashier’s check or wire transfer Encouragement for you to lease your home so you can buy it back over time Mortgage payments to be made directly to the company rather than your lender Request for you […] Read More

The Line Between Fiction and Realty

That which does not kill you could get you incarcerated.  Usually you do not get capital punishment for a real estate scam, but you can get years for bad behavior.  Raffaello Follieri just spent four-and-a-half years learning that in federal prison.  The ex-boyfriend of actress Anne Hathaway had previously enjoyed a $3.6 million lifestyle on other people’s dimes…a lot of dimes. Follieri went around telling investors he had a Vatican connection and could get church property cheap.  Turns out, he did not have a prayer.  In realty, the star of The Princess Diaries had kissed a fraud. You do not have to be rich to get caught in these schemes.  You do not have to be poor.  You only have to believe. It does not take a fairy godmother to tell you:  “If it looks too good to be true, it probably is!”  Before you invest in a fairytale fraud, have an attorney review it to ensure the deal does not have warts (or if it does have warts, that at least you know about them). Read More

Legacy of Lydia Cladek

If it seems too good to be true, it is probably Lydia Cladek.  She leaves investors with a cautionary tale longer than 20 years times 14 counts.  Separate yourself from the fraudsters; check out offers through the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov), or your attorney. Just because an offer seems good does not necessarily mean you should walk away, but you may want to have an attorney review it.  Having a disinterested party with the expertise to examine a deal from every angle is smart due diligence on your part.  If the deal is legitimate, then you have spent a little money on legal counsel hopefully for a greater return.  It could be a small investment to make a larger one.  However, if the deal is not legitimate, then you have paid a little money to save your capital for a genuine investment. If it seems too good to be true, have a lawyer take a look at it.  Attorneys’ fees are often cheaper to avoid a legal problem rather than once you have one. Read More