I’m not a fan of making every free calendar day a holiday, and “National Consumer Protection Week” doesn’t sound the most exciting.
But it does stimulate massive sharing of the best tips and tools for avoiding scams and fraud, which I think makes it more useful than National Ice Cream Day.
So, in honor of the sexiest and most convenient week of the year, here are some of the resources I’ve seen floating around that will empower you as a consumer.
If you or someone you know is facing illegal evictions, rent increases, or housing discrimination, check out my Feb. 10 column on local resources for tenants.
I’ve since heard that some legal aid organizations are overwhelmed, so check out lawhelpca.org/topic/housing for more options. You can also contact the Sonoma County Tenants Union Hotline at 707-387-1968.
The California Department of Justice asks victims of such violations to send advice or file complaints to [email protected] In a similar vein, the agency recently launched a Housing Crisis Strike Force and housing portal (oag.ca.gov/housing) that offers many resources for renters and homeowners in difficult situations.
For California homeowners struggling to finance their home, watch out for foreclosure salvage scams. Any foreclosure consultants or loan modification service companies that require money up front do so illegally, so never agree to pay fees for loans before the services are provided.
Additionally, officials warn never to make your mortgage payments to anyone other than your lender or loan officer, so be wary of any mortgage advisor who tries to get payments redirected to you through them. (You can check if a foreclosure consultant is registered with the Attorney General’s office or if a mortgage lender or managing agent is licensed at docqnet.dfpi.ca.gov/licensessearch/.)
To file a complaint against mortgage brokers, you can contact the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation at dfpi.ca.gov/file-a-complaint/ or call 866-275-2677.
Debts and loans
The state has a number of resources about debt collectors and your rights at oag.ca.gov/consumers/general/debt-collectors. (For example, there are certain rules regarding harassing calls.) If you receive a debt collection call, require written notice (a “validation notice”) to review before giving out personal or financial information to avoid scams. .
When it comes to predatory lending, experts recommend avoiding payday lenders as much as possible, as the rates on these loans are usually much higher than those on credit cards and other loans. (The average annual percentage rate for payday loans is 372%.)
You can search for a payday lender‘s license and any disciplinary action taken against it at dfpi.ca.gov/local.
This year has seen the rise of the COVID-19 testing scam, a phenomenon our region has not escaped.
As the pandemic has receded and testing has become available again, this is thankfully less of an issue now, but stick to county-approved testing locations as much as possible, lists of which you can always find at covid19.ca.gov/ get-local-information/#County-websites.
Another scam to watch out for these days are fraudulent charities. They unfortunately arise in times of urgent need and disaster, such as the war in Ukraine, when people seek to show their support. Don’t let that deter you from sending help, but slow down and do your research.
You can take steps such as checking a charity’s registration status and researching organizations’ ratings with charity watch groups such as the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, CharityWatch, or CharityNavigator. Double-check for copycat charities that look like well-known organizations but may, for example, have a slightly different URL.
It’s also a good idea to run fundraising campaigns on Google before donating to see what others are saying. You can report charities in bad faith at oag.ca.gov/charities/complaints.
Speaking of scammers taking advantage of times of stress, with skyrocketing energy bills, watch out for utility bill scams, too. In 2021, PG&E reportedly received more than 11,000 reports of scammers posing as the utility, with customers losing more than $600,000 through fraudulent payments.
Beware of those who may demand immediate payment or risk cutting off service or requesting financial information under the guise of offering you a refund or discount. If in doubt, hang up and call PG&E yourself.
More broadly, for phone or internet scams or any other scams, AARP has a Fraud Watch Network with resources that will help anyone spot scams and a hotline (877-908-3360) with specialists fraud that can help the victims who have been targeted.
On March 10, the Network is hosting an event with the Federal Trade Commission at 11 a.m. on dealing with the fallout from a scam and tips on recovering lost money. You can register at aarp.cventevents.com/event/390dbc6e-8273-40ac-81e8-fc861c927fe7/summary.
In general, Californians who are victims of fraud or scams can report violations of consumer protection laws to the Department of Justice at oag.ca.gov/report. You can also contact your local county consumer protection office.
“If you have been exploited by a predatory lender, are facing abusive debt collection practices, have been unlawfully evicted, or have information about other violations of the law, please file a complaint with from my office,” Bonta said in a press release. Monday.
“The leads we get from the public help us identify where companies are trying to circumvent the law – and help us hold companies accountable.”
“In Your Corner” is a new column that puts monitoring reports to work for the community. If you have a concern, advice or hunch, you can contact “In Your Corner” columnist Marisa Endicott at 707-521-5470 or [email protected] On Twitter @InYourCornerTPD and Facebook @InYourCornerTPD.