When you need assistance, where do you go for help? Do you call up a family member? Do you call a friend? Do you google your issue? Do you look for professional help? There are a lot of places to seek assistance for a problem, especially a financial problem. People are happy to offer their opinion and people in crisis are often too eager to listen to anyone who steps forward and promises a solution. But not all of these people are honest or knowledgeable. Whether it’s a person who is intentionally misleading you for their gain or a person who is negligently handing out false information for a quick buck, it’s in your best interest to do your research and be careful about who you work with.
So, how do you avoid scams and find an expert? Consumers should always be on the look out for some warning signs. The problem is that people often notice warning signs after they’ve already handed over precious information and money. Make sure you’re thinking on your toes. Ask questions, know the warning signs and understand where to go for real help to avoid falling into a dangerous trap. Here are a list of tips to consider:
1) Beware of companies that guarantee success. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
2) Keep personal information safe from strangers. Scam artists have no problem calling you up or coming to your door and asking you for your social security number after promising they will solve your financial problems. Guard your information carefully and make sure that you’re dealing with a reputable organization before handing over information.
3) Don’t hesitate to ask questions about certifications, success rates and affiliations with reputable groups and government. Check with the Better Business Bureau, government agencies and professional associations to find out if there have been complaints about the company or its employees.
4) Beware of companies that seem less than professional. A housing counselor told me about a homeowner who signed papers to refinance his mortgage in a McDonald’s. It should go without saying that this is a red flag.
5) Wait to talk with a trusted professional. You can find competent, honest and free services if you are looking in the right places.
- City and State Resources. Many cities have financial empowerment departments and consumer agencies that offer assistance to members of the community who are struggling with debt and are having trouble paying bills. Your city’s 311 phone number is also a good way to learn about government and community services. Or visit your state’s website. You might be surprised about the types of services they provide.
- Not-for-profits. There are often community resources that go unused because people aren’t aware that they exist. Is there a not-for profit in your neighborhood or city that was created to help the community address financial problems? If you don’t know the answer to that, you should do some investigating. The services are often free and you gain access to professionals who know the language, the procedure and the players in whatever area you need assistance in. Make sure you do your research to ensure that the organization is a non-profit in good standing with whatever entities regulate it.
When you’re stressed out due to financial issues, you may be looking for the fastest solution from the first person you speak with. But if you find yourself in a difficult financial situation, remember to keep a clear head, ask a lot of questions and seek help from trustworthy sources.
Kimberly Allman, Esq. is a financial planner and the President of Allman Financial Planning, LLC where she assists individuals who are seeking to improve their financial health. She is also the Manager of Homeownership Preservation for the New York Mortgage Coalition where she provides assistance to homeowners in distress through seminars, informational workshops and one-on-one counseling. She started her career as a corporate lawyer where she advised clients on a variety of investment products including hedge funds, mutual funds, structured products and real estate investment trusts.
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