Even though the real estate market in Austin is doing relatively well, the condition of the national housing market has caused scam activity to spike across the country. These schemes are designed to make the perpetrators rich and leave others holding the bag.

It can happen to you

Sly, smart and opportunistic, scam artists frequently prey on people who find themselves in desperate situations. Although eyeryone’s potentially vulnerable, common targets include the recently unemployed, citizens with disabilities, those on a fixed income or People who just aren’t well-schooled in financial matters.

These are not necessarily small operations planned in dark rooms. Some schemes are multi-layered, complex cons that involve legitimate-sounding companies and official documents.

On the move

Two common scams are aimed at people moving from one home to another. The first involves an artificially low estimate from the moving company. Then, on moving, day, the company revises the estimate to a much higher price. At that point, you have little choice. Everything is packed and ready with a timetable to meet.

The second involves a moving company’s refusal to unload consumers’ property unless they agree to pay the bill, which inexplicably grew while their possessions were on the truck.

You should know four things about avoiding moving scams:

  • Get a written estimate from a reputable, insured moving company.
  • By law, a moving company must deliver your property for no more than 10 percent above a nonbinding estimate.
  • You are not required to pay more than the amount quoted on a binding estimate.
  • Movers must bill you for any additional charges within 30 days.

Foreclosures

You may hear from someone claiming to be a foreclosure specialist or mortgage consultant. Be careful. Some are knowledgeable and smooth scam artists. They offer to save your credit or pay your mortgage for you, then attempt to transfer your home’s title to them or someone else. Once that happens, you may find yourself as a renter in a home you formerly owned only to discover that the “rescuer” is not making payments. When the loan default inevitably arrives, you are evicted and have lost all equity. In certain circumstances, you may even end up with the foreclosure on your credit history.

Here’s a tip — do not sign over the title to your home unless you’re dealing directly with your mortgage company and don’t send payments to anyone but the mortgage company without the company’s explicit approval. In fact, the first thing you should do is contact your lender if you are behind on your mortgage payments.

Free help is available if you are behind on payments. Check hud.gov, makinghomeaffordable.gov and ask your Realtor about resources to assist you.

Don’t be a victim

Mortgage fraud, equity stripping, equity flipping, bait-and-switch schemes — the list continues. Remember, if it seems too good be true, it probably is.

If you think you have fallen prey to fraud, contact the FTC and the Texas attorney General.