Internet Scams


Okay, it's official: There is no argument so stupid that somebody won't buy it. I thought the folks who fell for the income tax is unconstitutional scam were pretty soft-headed. But they're geniuses compared to the ones signing up for the latest debt elimination swindle.

Hers how it works: For a stiff upfront fee -- sometimes $2,500 or more -- you can get a certificate to take to your bank that supposedly eliminates your obligation to repay your mortgage, credit cards or other debt. What the victims get, of course, is an entirely bogus document that starts them down the road to trashed credit, foreclosure, financial ruin and possible federal fraud charges.

People fall for this . . . and then they start getting collections notices. They don't really understand whets going on, said FBI spokesman Paul Bresson. This is a growing problem, particularly in the past five or six months. Spread via Web sites, e-mail and those ubiquitous hotel ballroom seminars, these scams have proliferated to the point that the Federal Reserve Board and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates the national banks, have sent out alerts to the banks they regulate. The warnings tell banks not only to be on guard against this scam but also to confiscate any documents that the borrower presents and send a suspicious activity report to the FBI -- the same kind of report used to alert the bureau to information about possible terrorists, money launderers and other criminals.

From the tenor of (the warnings) they're really mad, said attorney Gary Van Ryzin, chief legal compliance officer for Great Lakes Higher Education Corp., a student loan servicer and guarantor based in Madison, Wis. They take the integrity of the financial system pretty seriously.

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