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Scammers target new homeowners but their tactics are easy to see through

Posted at 4:16 PM, Sep 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-12 19:22:38-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — New homeowners usually need all the help they can get. It can be a stressful, overwhelming time. Scammers use that to their advantage. 

Scammers are targeting 41 Action News reporter Sarah Plake, whose mailbox has been flooded with letters from unknown institutions urging her to buy a mortgage protection insurance plan. 

"It's not terribly shocking, unfortunately. As soon as you close on a home, the title company files the deed and your information becomes public," said realtor Jessica Magaha. 

The scammers will bait you with emotion—raising concern about what will happen to your mortgage in case you die. 

Magaha said if that were a real product, you'd have already talked about it with the institution you worked with. 

"If you're reading through the letter and something just feels a little off, always, always go back to the professional you worked with in the field," Magaha said. 

The letters Sarah received have the name of her bank on it, her address, everything. 

But when you open the letters and really start looking at it, you can see several red flags. 

Aaron Reese with the Better Business Bureau of Greater Kansas City said it's all about the graphics. 

"If it's off-centered, the logo is cut off, things just look wrong with the document, or it looks sloppy, if it's on thin paper, looks like it's been copied. Just things like that. Chances are it's not from your mortgage company," Reese said. 

And the letters should go straight in the trash. 

Another way to tell is to compare the letter to the actual mortgage company's logo. Sometimes scammers won't use the exact logo, or they'll omit letters from the name. For example, instead of "Bank" it will be "Bnk" 

Reese said these types of scams are usually run by organized crime groups overseas. The scammers get a lead list together of addresses and go from there. 

"They have access to public records. They have people doing that for them a lot of the time, so then they have different people emailing. A lot of the time they employ bots. Just robots that would go out, crawl the internet for information and then send those emails. A lot of automation. A lot of ways to get a lot of contact without a lot of work," Reese said. 

The return address on one letter read: "Customer Service Department, Mortgage Protection Division, PO Box 1737, Owasso, OK 74055." 

A quick Google search showed those people have been issued at least two cease-and-desist orders from the New Hampshire Banking Department and the West Virginia Division of Financial Institutions. The documents say the Mortgage Protection Division was ordered to stop posing as other financial institutions. 

Is what the scammers doing legal? 

"It would be mail fraud. So, they're not allowed to. It's against the law. If you turned them over to the United States Postal Inspection Service, they will probably open an investigation," Reese said. 

Experts say the only institution who should be asking you for more money after you close on the home is your mortgage lender so that you make your monthly payments.