ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s easy to get caught up in this kind of scam.
The washing machine, the refrigerator or some other important appliance breaks, and our first move is to go online and search for the customer service or warranty center’s phone number.
You find the one you think is correct and make the call. A supposed service agent answers and promises the repairs will be made, but first you need to provide your name, home address and credit or debit card information to pay a small service fee up front.
The result: No one shows up at the scheduled time to make the repair, despite the fact that you’ve been charged the fee. When you check back with that number you found online, either there the phone rings and rings, or the person who answers has no record of your call. Meanwhile, someone has your personal information.
The Better Business Bureau says increasing numbers of people are reporting this type of scam.
In fact, sometimes, fraudsters will come to your home, posing as repair professionals. The BBB says one consumer responded to the visit by calling the real appliance manufacturer to check on the visitor, only to be told it had not sent anyone to her home and knew nothing about it.
When the consumer asked the person to leave, he demanded she pay a “trip fee” of $39. “Feeling threatened and wanting to be rid of the fake repair person, the consumer paid up,” the BBB says.
The BBB gives this advice on avoiding appliance repair scams:
• Scammers conjure up fake ads with fake phone numbers. “Instead of trusting the first search result that pops up in your search engine, get your information from the official company website or warranty paperwork that came with your appliance,” the BBB says.
• When you purchase an appliance, make sure to find out what’s included in the warranty, how long it lasts, what fees you will still be responsible for and who will make the repairs. When you know all this, “it will be harder for scammers to trick you.”
• Use your credit card so you are able to dispute a payment. Paying by wire transfer or prepaid debit card is like using cash. There is almost nothing you can do to get the money back.
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And here’s another trend to be aware of: the credit repair scheme.
The Federal Trade Commission is accusing two companies of bilking customers out of more than $23 million by promising they can help debtors pay down student loans and lower monthly payments.
The companies are accused of tricking people into submitting loan payments directly to them. They then divert the money for their own use.
To make things even worse, the FTC says, “Many of these borrowers went months, sometimes years, before learning their student loans weren’t being repaid.”
That’s because the companies were alleged to have used student aid IDs or other personal information to change borrowers’ contact information on U.S. Department of Education websites, which limited the borrowers’ contact with their federal loan servicers.
Here’s what to know, courtesy of the FTC: There’s nothing a company can do for you that you can’t do for yourself for free. If you have federal student loans, start with www.StudentAid.gov/repay. If you have private loans, talk with your loan servicer.
Contact Ellen Marks at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210.