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Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Scammers’ most damaging weapon in 2019 was using the internet to steal money and personal information from customers, according to the complaints submitted to the state Attorney General’s Office.
The office collects complaints of fraud from residents and business owners throughout the state to keep track of scam trends and get law enforcement involved when necessary.
Here are 10 most common scams customers wrote formal complaints about in 2019.
1. Internet scams
These include issues with service providers, data privacy and security, data breaches and fraud through internet manipulation.
This would include phishing emails, which appear to be from a legitimate source and coax the receiver to provide sensitive information.
Last year, DiBella’s Subs, which operates 47 stores across the U.S., announced that its computer systems were affected by a sophisticated data breach, potentially exposing information from up to 305,000 payment cards.
What you can do: Customers should be wary of pop-up computer messages asking them to call immediately about a computer virus, according to the Attorney General’s Office.
If you know you’ve given scammers access to your computer, run antivirus software and consider reformatting your computer. Apply security updates as soon as possible and change your passwords often.
The office received 4,436 complaints in this category in 2019.
2. Consumer scams
Scams could involve security systems, technology repairs, immigration services and consignment shops.
What you should know: Potential fraud between two businesses often comes in the form of business services.
Food truck and restaurant owners from across the country complained to the Attorney General’s Office about M Design Vehicles, a Rochester-based food truck builder that often didn’t follow through on its contracts to construct food trucks, leaving customers out tens of thousands of dollars.
The complaints, collected by Democrat and Chronicle reporters through a Freedom of Information Law request, bolstered an investigation into M Design’s practices.
The office received 2,659 complaints of this type in 2019.
Investigation: Food truck builder in Rochester burns customers nationwide
This includes buying, leasing and repairing vehicles, as well as service contracts and rental agreements.
Many residents are not familiar with the fine print in leasing or sale agreements, which gives untoward dealers an opportunity to bilk customers into paying out extra cash.
What you can do: Do not sign agreements that don’t have the numbers filled in, and check over your agreement to make sure there are no extra accessories or warranties present that you did not agree to or ask for. Ask for a copy of every document you sign.
There were 2,510 complaints of this type in 2019.
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4. Landlord and tenant disputes
These include security deposit releases and tenant harassment.
Tenants in New York were granted a number of protections as part of new rent legislation last year.
What you should know: Landlords can only charge a maximum of $20 for a credit and background check before a lease is signed, and may only charge up to one month of rent for a security deposit or “advance payment.”
There are also additional protections for late fees and eviction.
There were 1,910 complaints about scams involving landlords and rent in 2019.
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5. Utility companies and services
This includes issues with wireless and residential phones, energy suppliers, and cable and satellite providers.
A man in Geneseo, Livingston County, was sent a mobile phone bill of over $4,000 after his information was stolen and used to buy several iPhones and phone lines on his AT&T mobile phone account.
Others through New York state have found that they’re paying double on their utility bills, sometimes attributable to energy service companies, or ESCOs, that may persuade customers to sign up for unnecessary services at exorbitant costs.
What you can do: Before accepting service through an ESCO, consumers should ask how their rates compare to the rates provided directly from utility companies, the Attorney General’s Office advised.
The office received 1,811 complaints about utility scams in 2019.
6. Credit and debt services
These scams could include debt collection, credit card billing, debt settlement and debt relief, payday loans, credit repair, credit reporting agencies and identity theft.
Scammers posing as utility or financial agencies may call residents in attempts to steal credit card information.
What you can do: A good rule of thumb is to never give out sensitive financial information over the phone, no matter how convincing a caller may sound.
Debt collection scams often promise to alleviate or diminish debt quickly and easily, or may charge an up-front fee, which is illegal.
Customers can also sign up for a credit freeze through one of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. That allows you to restrict access to your credit report.
The office received 1,206 complaints of this type in 2019.
7. Retail sales
This could include any sale of goods, food, or clothing, plus rent-to-own services and online orders. Ticket websites may offer expensive tickets for highly anticipated events that turn out to be stolen tickets, seats that are taken or seats that don’t exist at all.
What you can do: Check the accreditation of ticket websites and only buy if clear information is provided about the the venue, seating, ticket delivery and refunds.
Before entering into a rental purchase agreement, be sure to read and understand all terms and ask questions, including: How much are the monthly payments? What other monthly fees apply? What is the total dollar cost to own the item? Who pays for repairs? Is there a penalty for paying off the item early?
There were 1,091 complaints came in about scams of this type in 2019.
8. Home repair and construction
These include home improvement services that were not delivered or were done poorly.
What you can do: Consumer protection bureaus regularly urge customers to check customer reviews and Better Business Bureau pages before paying a contractor to seal their driveways, renovate their bathrooms or clear ice from their roofs.
The office received 901 complaints about these scams in 2019.
9. Mail order and online catalogs
These include purchases made via mail order or online catalog or marketplace.
Negative option marketing is a popular form of sales online, where online merchants treat a consumer’s failure to reject an offer or cancel an agreement as their approval to be charged for goods or services on a recurring basis, according to the Attorney General’s office.
What you can do: Read all terms and conditions before you make a purchase, know when your “free” or “trial” period ends and monitor your credit card and bank statements for any unauthorized or recurring charges.
The office received 593 complaints about these scams in 2019.
10. Mortgage services
These include mortgage modifications, mortgage and loan broker fraud and foreclosures.
What you should know: Individuals and companies may claim they will make homeowner’s monthly mortgage payments in exchange for temporarily holding the deed to the home, allowing the homeowner to remain in the home as a renter until he/she can resume making monthly mortgage payments, according to the Office.
This may be a scam to steal the deed and attempt to evict the homeowner.
The office received 493 complaints about these scams in 2019.
What you can do next: Residents and customers can submit complaints of scams or fraud to the Attorney General’s Office at ag.ny.gov/consumer-frauds/Filing-a-Consumer-Complaint.
They will be asked to fill out contact information, and provide both a description of the alleged scam or fraudulent activity as well as documents related to the case.
Customers can also call the Office’s Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection’s customer helpline at 1-800-771-7755.
Sarah Taddeo is the consumer watchdog reporter for USA Today Network’s New York State Team. She investigates stories about your consumer rights, including scams, negligent landlords, safety issues and wayward businesses.
Got a story tip or comment? Contact Sarah at STADDEO@Gannett.com or (585) 258-2774. Follow her on Twitter @Sjtaddeo. This coverage is only possible with support from our readers. Sign up today for a digital subscription.
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Developers plan 13 new homes in Muskegon Heights to help ‘people of color bring their community back’
MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, MI – Two pastors from Indiana have a plan to build 13 new homes in the city of Muskegon Heights as part of an initiative to help “people of color bring their community back.”
The Rev. Rodney Lynch and the Rev. Willie Thompson, both of West Lafayette, Indiana, recently purchased 13 vacant lots from the city on which they plan to build single-family homes.
Thompson grew up in Muskegon Heights.
“He remembers when it was a thriving community — in the years he grew up there — and he sees it now,” Lynch told MLive. “We were talking one day, and he said this city is under new leadership, and because there’s new leadership, there’s new hope.”
Troy Bell became the city’s new manager at the beginning of this year. One of his early initiatives was a plan to formalize and add development requirements to the city’s tradition of selling city-owned vacant lots for $100 each.
Lynch and Thompson purchased 13 lots on Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, McIlwraith, Elwood and Superior streets.
Calling themselves Muskegon Heights Investors LLC, Lynch and Thompson will look for builders to construct “high quality” homes with sale prices of about $100,000 to $130,000, Lynch said.
Home buyers will be provided “wrap around services,” such as help preparing their credit for home purchase and education on how to properly maintain their properties, Lynch said.
“I’m more interested in the humanitarian part of this — helping quote, unquote minorities rebuild their own community (and) be a part of bringing their community back,” he said.
Under the city’s lot sale policy, lots are sold for $100 each and purchasers are required to pay for document and other fees, estimated at about $150 per lot. They also must pay three years’ worth of taxes, estimated at about $270 per lot.
Construction on the lots is to begin within two years of purchase, and owners must maintain the property, or it will revert to the city through a quick claim deed.
Requirements include planting grass and shrubs, removing dead trees and weeds and keeping structures in good repair.
The objectives of the lot-sales program are raising revenue, reducing crime and blight and encouraging development in the city.
Lynch said he visited Muskegon Heights twice and was dismayed by some of what he saw, but also encouraged by the “great opportunity for people of color to bring their community back.”
“When I first came up there, I was like ‘Wow, the city needs help.’ It’s depleted. The roads are bad, a lot of boarded-up houses,” Lynch said. “But I said, ‘Yeah, this is a great opportunity right here.’”
Bell said he has worked for several months with the Indiana developers as the city refined its process for approving lot sales.
“I appreciate their commitment to the community,” Bell said. ”I appreciate them trying to be part of the renaissance of this community.”
The “key to spurring economic development” in Muskegon Heights is improving the city’s housing stock which has an average age of 100 years, Bell said. New homes have not built in the city since 2014, and that was just three new homes, he said.
The city owns 350 vacant lots and the Muskegon County Land Bank owns another 450, Bell said.
While Muskegon Heights has been selling vacant lots for $100, the process was informal and didn’t require development of the lots, he said. That resulted in many of the lots being used to park vehicles, and often owners didn’t pay the property taxes and the land reverted to the city, Bell said.
“That’s why the city is barely making it by now — because it has no tax base,” Bell said.
He said he has encouraged builders to shoot for “high quality” homes and to include credit repair, first-time home buyer and homeowner education programs like the ones Lynch said his group is planning.
The next “phase” of the city’s plan to improve housing involves tackling renovations of boarded-up and vacant homes and better enforcement of building codes, Bell said.
The city of Muskegon recently embarked on an ambitious effort to improve its housing stock by encouraging developers to build single family homes. The $49.5 million plan to build 240 homes in the city over the next three years involves the use of Brownfield tax credits to help make the homes affordable.
Among those are 13 homes under construction on Webster Avenue between Eighth and Ninth streets near the city’s downtown.
Also on MLive:
Fund launched to support women business owners affected by COVID | News
A fund has been launched to support female business owners affected by the continuing economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The partner plan-like facility called the Win-Win Partner Fund, has been designed by the Women Entrepreneurs Network of the Caribbean (WENC). It is targeted to the organisation’s member-base of 150 women business owners.
Although declining to provide disbursement data, WENC said entrepreneurs have already accessed loans from the facility to stock their businesses; invest in e-commerce opportunities and to bring their businesses in line with COVID-19 norms. Financing for business start-ups has also been disbursed.
In a release WENC described the fund as a hybrid of the traditional partner plan.
“Yes, members are required to pay a monthly ‘hand’ and yes, they will receive funds when it is their turn; however that’s perhaps where the similarity to the traditional partner ends,” the organisation said.
“This atypical hybrid is designed to have built-in mechanisms to facilitate sustainability and scalability. This is because the organisation is well-aware that its members will need support long after the world waves its final good-bye to COVID,” it explained.
Women more stressed by COVID
President, Ethnie Miller Simpson said the idea for the fund emerged from the frustrations women generally face. She argued that women have had to bear the brunt of the economic fallout from COVID-19 in Jamaica.
“This developing trend has long-term implications for our community. We, therefore, need to ensure that we will have the capacity to support them beyond the crisis.” said Miller Simpson.
She said women tend to earn less, have lower amounts of savings and are disproportionately represented in the informal economy and service sectors, which have been hard-hit by the pandemic.
“These facts when added to the certain knowledge that the majority of single-parent households are led by women and that within two-parent homes women are more likely to be burdened with unpaid care and domestic work, it is astonishing that these factors have not sufficiently informed state relief packages nor private sector loans” she .
Although operational, WENC acknowledged that it is working on strengthening its model.
“To ensure its long-term viability, the architects of this pioneering plan are exploring alternative credit scores and credit repair facilities that are suited to women-led MSMEs (micro small and medium enterprises),” the organisation said. It noted that its working with the Asian Development Bank identify suitable integration models.
WENC is also looking at integrating digital payment options for the facility and to develop an app for the fund.
Follow The Gleaner on Twitter and Instagram @JamaicaGleaner and on Facebook @GleanerJamaica. Send us a message on WhatsApp at 1-876-499-0169 or email us @email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
JVS and TCF Offering Education & Funding towards Credit Repair, Home Ownership • Oakland County Times
JVS and TCF Offering Education & Funding towards Credit Repair, Home Ownership
Southfield, MI- JVS Human Services, one of the largest human service agencies in metro Detroit, is announcing the HarMoney Program, a new financial initiative to help low- to moderate-income families in Oakland County get their foot on the home ownership ladder. Through the HarMoney Program, qualified families can receive up to $1000 down payment assistance on a home, or for repairing their financial credit to help them qualify for home ownership, after successful completion of a 12-week financial education course. Up to 40 qualified families will benefit from the initiative which will launch Monday, November 9 at 3 p.m. via Facebook Live. The program is made possible by a $50,000 grant from TCF Bank’s Community Impact Fund.
“Around 75 percent of the calls we receive into our financial coaching department is about home ownership, with one of the largest barriers being the inability to fund a down payment. Through HarMoney we now we can provide a little extra help, to push struggling families over the finishing line,” said Laltsha Cunningham, Financial Capability Supervisor at JVS Human Services. “We decided to call the program HarMoney, because so many in the population are not in harmony with their finances which is incredibly stressful, particularly now during this unprecedented time.”
JVS Human Services has identified that Oakland County has had a recent increase in households experiencing poverty. In 2019, census tracking showed that 8.2 percent of families in Oakland County were below the income poverty level and, now with the Covid-19 pandemic, these numbers will likely become greater. An increase in overall debt, lower credit scores and lack of savings impacts a family’s ability to qualify for either renting or leasing a property and is a major obstacle to home ownership. The aim of the HarMoney Program is help families gain the knowledge to manage their money more effectively, learn skills such as budgeting and credit repair and understand the path to home ownership. The HarMoney Program components include:
~12 weeks of interactive financial education workshops (1-2 hours per week)
~Eight individual financial coaching sessions
~Referrals to organizations that focus on income support and career development
~Development of a credit repair strategy
~Credit report pulls at the start, midway and conclusion of the program
~Down payment assistance of up to $1000 per family after successful program completion
“TCF is a purpose-driven company, passionate about building stronger individuals, businesses and communities. TCF’s Community Impact Fund supports local organizations because we know that together, we can do even more good in the communities where we live and serve,” said Laura Castone, Market Manager of Community Development. “TCF is proud to make this donation to JVS Human Services, which provides critical resources to local residents to help them take the steps towards home ownership.”
Potential applicants to the HarMoney Program must be low- to moderate-income based on HUD income limits and have a current credit score at or below 620. For more information applicants can email email@example.com, call 248.233.4299, or go to https://www.jvshumanservices.org/homebuyers.
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