In light of recent events, the California Department of Business Oversight (DBO) urges everyone to continue to guard against scams and unlawful activities in investments and other financial services. The DBO encourages everyone to carefully investigate investment opportunities they're considering, particularly at a time when unscrupulous persons will try to exploit heightened economic anxieties. Consumers and investors can submit complaints to the DBO at https://dbo.ca.gov/file-a-complaint/.
"Stimulus Check" Fraud and Account Takeover Scams
Members should be watchful of stimulus scams during these challenging times. The IRS advises not to give out credentials and information related to their stimulus payments or accounts over the phone, text, or email. Watch out for these tactics from scammers:
- Some scammers who pretend to be with federal agencies use the words “stimulus check” or “stimulus payment,” however, the official term used by the IRS is “economic impact payment.”
- Scammers contact potential victims by phone, email, text, or social media asking for verification of personal and/or banking information. They claim the information is necessary to send or hasten an economic impact payment.
- Scammers are suggesting that they can arrange faster delivery of a tax refund or economic impact payment by working on the taxpayer’s behalf. This scam has taken place via social media and even in person. Do not sign over your check to an unknown person.
- Scammers might mail the taxpayer a fraudulent check, perhaps in an odd amount, then tell the taxpayer to call a number or verify information online to cash it, thereby collecting private information.
For information on the status of CARES program funds, visit the IRS website at https://www.irs.gov/coronavirus/economic-impact-payment-information-center.
For more information on how to protect yourself from COVID-19 scams, learn more at https://www.fiscal.treasury.gov/news/customer-alerts-frauds-scams.html.
You can also get information on "Know Your U.S. Treasury Check Campaign" at https://www.secretservice.gov/data/press/releases/2020/20-APR/Check-Security-Features-for-Economic-Impact-Payments.pdf.
Loan Modification and Foreclosure Scams
These scams hurt homeowners facing foreclosure:
Deed-Transferring to Third Party: In this deception, homeowners are told they will no longer be responsible for their mortgage payments if they transfer their home's deed to a third party. This is NOT true. Transferring a title does not relieve a borrower of his or her mortgage payments. Scam artists often promise to rent the house back to the homeowner until the homeowner can afford to buy back the house, asking for up-front fees to make the deed transfer. If you are facing foreclosure, contact your mortgage servicer about payment options and do NOT sign your property over to someone else.
Intentional Default: Scam artists urge homeowners to stop paying their mortgage in order to get a loan modification. There is no guaranteed right to a loan modification; the terms and standards for a loan modification are always determined by the mortgage loan servicer, and no one else. If you are having difficulty making mortgage payments, contact your mortgage servicer directly or contact a HUD-certified counselor (888-995-4673) for help.
Banks, credit unions, and mortgage lenders and servicers have agreed to allow homeowners who are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to delay or reduce their mortgage payments for up to three months. See the DBO’s COVID-19 Updates page at https://dbo.ca.gov/2020/03/25/covid19/
For more information about mortgages with Travis Credit Union during the COVID-19 pandemic, read our Mortgage Q&A.
Advance Fee Scams: The DBO encourages people in need of cash to avoid advance-fee scams in which fraudulent companies promise loans if a consumer first pays a substantial up-front fee. Advance fees for loan modifications are NOT legal in California. Do NOT pay anyone who asks for upfront/advance fees for loan modification services or mortgage forbearance services. Contact the DBO immediately at 866-275-2677 or at Ask.DBO@dbo.ca.gov. Borrowers are protected from late fees while a loan modification application is under review, a denial is being appealed, or a borrower is making timely payments.
Potential Investment-Related Scams
The DBO encourages investors to watch out for investment schemes promoting cures in connection with the current public health emergency, or other investment opportunities related to the economic downturn. Schemes such as these may attempt to convince investors to liquidate their savings or sell their current holdings in order to purchase overvalued assets, assets that come with very high fees, or assets of uncertain or questionable value, such as cryptocurrencies or precious metals.
Pension Advances scam: This involves investors who provide funds to make cash advances and pensioners who are willing to turn over future pension payments in exchange for an immediate lump-sum cash payment.
Investing in Opportunity Zones deception: An Opportunity Zone is an economically distressed community where new investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment. Only a Qualified Opportunity Fund (QOF) may invest in property or a business located in an opportunity zone. People considering investments in Opportunity Zones should consult with their qualified tax adviser because of the complex tax implications. A property located in an Opportunity Zone is not automatically a good investment because these are economically distressed areas which pose additional risks.
Check Before You Invest
The Department of Business Oversight encourages you to check the licensing status of companies prior to transacting business with them. California consumers should contact the DBO to check on the licensing of companies offering loans, investments, or other financial services by visiting the Licensee listing on the DBO website (https://dbo.ca.gov) or calling the Department's Consumer Services Office at (866) 275-2677.
How to Protect Yourself:
- Before investing, ask questions about the risks and fees involved. Conduct your own independent research or seek the opinion of a financial professional who is registered with your local securities regulator.
- Never invest in something you don’t fully understand. Do not agree to participate in a general partnership or joint venture if you have no specific experience, knowledge, or education in the type of business, and would have to rely on others’ expertise.
- Beware of sales techniques that include repeated phone calls, cold calls, or high-pressure sales pitches hyping the profitability of the deal or promising "a sure thing." Investing always carries risk.
- Do not be fooled by professional-looking websites boasting current productivity levels and profits and featuring photos of new production sites. These are not proof.
If you believe you have been the victim of fraud regarding an account with Travis Credit Union, call our Member Service Center at 800-877-8328 during normal business hours.