NEWS RELEASE
Office of Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr.


February 6, 2001 Media Inquiries: Sean Caine 410-576-6357

ATTORNEY GENERAL CURRAN, POSTAL INSPECTOR ROWAN ALERT PUBLIC TO PREDATORY LENDERS AND LOAN SCAMS
Pair kick off National Consumer Protection Week, February 5-10

Baltimore - Attorney General J. Joseph Curran, Jr., joined with James J. Rowan, Jr., the Inspector in Charge of the Washington Metro Division of the United States Postal Inspection Service, in alerting the public to the danger of loan scams and predatory lending. The message is the theme of this year's National Consumer Protection Week, organized by the National Association of Attorneys General, government agencies and consumer advocacy organizations.

Curran and Rowan explained that consumers who have poor credit, are young and inexperienced, or are elderly and have equity in their homes are often victimized by predatory lenders and scam artists who promise that they can arrange loans that traditional lenders won't offer.

"Usually the consumers who are swindled by predatory lenders are the very people who can least afford the loss," said Curran. "We hope to alert people to the warning signs of loan scams and bad loan deals."

Curran and Rowan say that common loan rip-offs include:

  • Advance-fee loan scams: Ads that promise loans with instant approval, even for people with bad credit or no credit. Usually this scam involves the consumer paying a "processing fee" of several hundred dollars to get the loan, which never arrives.

  • High-cost home equity loans: Older people who have equity in their homes can be preyed upon by unscrupulous loan brokers. The loan broker may switch the interest rate they were promised just before settlement, or disguise loan terms, added-on credit insurance or other fees that make the loan more expensive than the consumer can afford.

  • "Flipping" mortgage fraud: Some first-time homebuyers can be tricked into real estate deals in which the home is fraudulently appraised for much more than it is worth, and the homebuyer's assets and income are exaggerated. The broker walks away with a large profit, while the homebuyer is left with a mortgage payment that is more than he or she can afford, and a house that may be riddled with problems and not worth the amount of the mortgage. Curran's Office currently has an ongoing public awareness initiative that uses town-hall meetings and an innovative brochure to combat this deceptive practice.

  • Payday loans: People who run short of cash before their next payday sometimes go to businesses offering "post-dated check cashing." The business gives the consumer cash in return for a personal check for the amount of the cash plus a sum of $20, $30 or more, agreeing not to cash the check for a week or two. The high cost of these short-term "loans" can trap some consumers in a cycle of debt.

Curran advised that businesses offering consumer loans and check-cashing services in Maryland must be licensed with the Maryland Division of Financial Regulation. Consumers should call the Division at (410) 230-6097 to see if a business is licensed before doing business with it. First-time homebuyers may wish to read the Attorney General's pamphlet "Home Buyers: Beware of ‘Flipping' Scams," available by calling (410) 576-6550.

The Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division has produced a Consumer's Edge newsletter that describes several common loan scams. Post offices throughout Maryland will post a flyer alerting consumers to the risks of responding to "fast and easy" loan offers often advertised in classified ads.

Rowan urged consumers to report incidents of potential mail fraud by completing the Postal Service's Mail Fraud Report Form (PS Form 8165), available at all post offices, by e-mailing fraud@usps.gov or by calling its 24 hour telephone number at 202-636-2300. "Information provided by consumers is then entered into our national Fraud Complaint System," he said. "This system helps to identify violations of the mail fraud or false representation statutes."

The newsletter, flyer, "flipping" booklet, and many more National Consumer Protection Week materials are available on the Attorney General's website at www.oag.state.md.us. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service website also has fraud education materials available at www.usps.gov/postalinspectors.

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