Yet another scam designed to separate homeowners from their money is making its way across the country from the West, where desperate sellers are willing to accept just about any kind of compensation to get out from under.
This scheme involves the use of fraudulent Treasury-related promissory notes and bonds as down payments by charlatans who claim to be short on cash. In most cases the scam artists try to buy homes using these worthless documents, but in one case they actually tried to purchase an office building.
One clue that "private promissory notes" and "private offset bonds" are not on the up and up is that they carry the name of former Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson on their face. Private bonds and notes are neither backed nor guaranteed by the federal government, so no Treasury secretary's name would ever appear on them.
Another clue: The only type of "hard copy" bond issued by the U.S. Treasury that a citizen can purchase is a savings bond. All other bonds are electronic, so the buyer would not receive a hard copy or original document.
The Treasury Department also is investigating incidents in which people use fictitious government-related financial obligations.
In one popular scam, crooks obtain routing numbers to create false checking accounts. Under this ruse, scam artists use their Social Security numbers as the checking account numbers and list the bank as either FMS (Financial Management Service) or BPD (Bureau of Public Debt).
It is always wise for a seller or agent to check the validity of a check presented by a would-be buyer as a down payment or earnest money. Neither Treasury bureaus nor the TreasuryDirect program offers checking accounts to the public, so these invalid negotiable financial instruments will not be honored.
The perils of doing it yourself
Do-it-yourselfers often end up paying dearly when it comes to home improvements, most often at resale, when less-than-professional projects turn would-be buyers on their heels.
But according to a recent survey by Angie's List, the danger is much more immediate: More than a few DIYers end up in the emergency room.
"Members are telling us they've stapled themselves to their siding, fallen off ladders and cut themselves with chain saws," says Angie Hicks, founder of the website, at www.angieslist.com, where consumers share ratings and reviews of contractors and companies. "DIY can be dangerous."
Nearly 1 in 10 respondents to the Angie's List poll confessed they'd hurt themselves while attempting a home improvement job. A study by Ohio State University's Center for Injury Research and Policy found that about 136,000 people a year end up in the ER owing to ladder-related injuries, and a Duke University study found that about 37,000 people a year seek emergency medical attention for nail-gun injuries.
"Even a project that seems simple can result in extra costs, from fixing the repair you started to make but actually made worse to the costs of having an ER doc remove the nail or staple you shot into your arm," Hicks says.
Here are some examples from the Angie's List survey of what people do to themselves in the name of being handy:
* "I nearly blinded myself on Saturday -- moved a 12-foot ladder [with] a 10-pound hammer on top of it -- the hammer fell and bounced off my shoulder and then off my face. I look pretty."
* "Don't go up on ladders or in the attic when jet-lagged. It cost my husband 27 stitches in his head."
* "While I held a tree limb, my father-in-law used a chain saw to cut it. The saw cut through so fast, and my arm was in the way and it got nicked. Off to the ER with only a very close call."
One Angie's List member reported that he nearly cut his fingers off with a table saw. Then, when he was running to the bathroom to control the bleeding, he tripped and hit his head on the deck he was trying to build, ending up with not only three cut digits but also a twisted ankle and a concussion.
Three in five of the Angie's List members surveyed are planning a home-improvement project this year. If you are among the one-third who plan to do it yourself, consider these questions before putting on a work apron and strapping up your boots:
* What experience do you have? Just because you are not afraid to tackle something you've never done before, that doesn't mean you should. If you mess up, it could cost more to have the mistake undone and redone properly than it would have cost in the first place.
* Do you have enough time? The most successful projects are those that are done slowly and carefully, so they can take days or even weeks, not hours. Rushing through the job is a surefire road to failure.
* Do you have the right tools?
Tips for a happier loan process
The latest customer-satisfaction survey from J.D. Power & Associates finds that, for the most part, borrowers are more pleased than ever with their lenders. But that's hardly good news: The main reason is not that they're getting more; it's that they expect less.
Yes, lenders are more diligent about delivering the goods, especially because borrowers have to jump through so many more hoops these days. But Tim Ryan, director of the financial services practice at the global-marketing services firm, says that "customers have come to expect less of their lenders, so they are often pleasantly surprised when those expectations are met or even exceeded."
Borrowers can improve the quality of their experiences by:
* Asking for a full explanation of the process, including what will be required of them and the expected time frames.
* Expecting the unexpected and being ready to provide whatever documentation is needed at a moment's notice.
* Discussing the initial estimate of closing costs in detail. Find out which charges can change and why. Then, a few days before the scheduled close, obtain a copy of the closing statement so you can compare it to the estimate. If there are big differences, ask for an explanation. Don't wait until the moving van is loaded and the family is waiting in the car.
* Finding out whether the loan will be sold and whether a third party will collect the payments. Most loans and servicing rights are sold these days, so don't be shocked if yours is too.
Distributed by United Feature Syndicate.