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Borrower Beware: How to Avoid Fraudulent or Deceptive Deals

Steer clear of fraudulent or deceptive offers targeting borrowers. Unscrupulous individuals try to lure consumers into questionable, high-cost deals or fraudulent transactions, usually involving new loans or credit cards or offers to help deal with debt problems. Here are examples:

"Predatory" loans: People from non-bank or home improvement industries may use false or misleading sales tactics to make high-cost loans to consumers in need of cash. Victims who can't afford the loan may be pressured to refinance. Borrowers who pledge their house as collateral could lose it in a foreclosure.

Credit repair scams: Con artists may promise to erase a bad credit history or make easy loans to people with spotty credit histories. Most charge exorbitant fees or never provide the promised money. Only steady and consistent on-time payments by a consumer can legally repair a credit record.

Mortgage foreclosure frauds: Thieves may contact homeowners at risk of losing their home to foreclosure and propose to help by "paying your mortgage" while you temporarily "rent" your home from them. They then trick you into signing documents that transfer the ownership of the property to the crooks. In other scams, phony companies claiming to be housing counselors offer to negotiate a new loan or perform other services for very high upfront fees and do little or nothing in return.

Credit card fraud: Identity thieves steal personal information and apply for new credit cards or make counterfeit cards. Under federal law, if a thief uses your credit card or card number the most you are liable for is $50. Even so, ID theft in general can be costly to fix, and it can take months to repair the damage. Notify your card issuer about any problems as soon as possible to help limit your losses.

How can you avoid credit-related fraud or deception in general? "Deal with financial institutions or other companies you know or that you have independently verified as being legitimate," explained Randall Howe, a fraud specialist at the FDIC. When in doubt, he said, you may contact the FDIC for guidance (see For More Help or Information on Loans and Credit Cards) or call your state or county's consumer protection office.

As for preventing credit card fraud, safeguard your personal and financial information and monitor your credit card statements and credit reports for signs that a thief may have stolen your identity.

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