I received an e-mail on one of my unadvertised accounts from my mortgage lender, announcing that it had been trying to get in touch with me and asking me to respond with all sorts of personal information.
I was, of course, suspicious, since my lender has my address and phone number, and has been informed that I don't consider e-mail valid communication and will not respond to it.
My wife, whose name is also on the loan, hadn't received a similar e-mail. There were no phone messages or letters from the lender, and, when I checked my account, I was up to date. That was enough to convince me I was being "phished," or scammed via e-mail.
In happier times, you and I were typically phished by widows of Third World dictators looking for a U.S. account to stash their husbands' vast legacies, or by someone from the English National Lottery explaining we could collect our winnings.
Scams are not limited to e-mail, of course - no one is immune. One elderly reader told me that she had received a letter from an Illinois company saying that she didn't have a copy of the deed to her property, that she needed one, and, if she sent them $78, the company would provide one. (Public records contain all the contact information necessary for this sort of thing to occur.)
The reader had a copy of her deed or could easily get another from the county if she needed one - and for less money.
Lately, my snail-mail scams have come in the form of offers from an Ocean County mortgage broker to refinance my FHA mortgage. I don't have an FHA mortgage, which means he may have access to public records, but doesn't know how to read them.
The financial meltdown has put us all on edge, and people having trouble finding enough money for their bills or mortgages are the ones likely to be phished successfully.
Among the chief scammers are mortgage modifiers and credit repairers, both unregulated. Probably these are the same folks who let baby-sitters claim the salaries of corporate executives on subprime mortgage applications - resulting in the national foreclosure crisis.
Eliot Feldman, whose Sewell company, Advanced Capital Mortgage Services, doesn't do modifications, says, "Virtually every company doing them is a scam." If you are in mortgage trouble, contact legitimate, government-approved credit-counseling agencies instead.
Federal data show that more than half of all modifications in the first six months of 2008 resulted in higher monthly payments, so clearly someone is profiting. It isn't the consumer. Anyway, the FDIC says there are ways to recognize Internet scams.
You receive an e-mail from what appears to be a known reputable entity, describing an urgent reason to verify or resubmit confidential information by clicking on a link. The link, which looks official, takes you to the scammer's site.
If you get one of these e-mails, report it to the real institution on a reliable site or by phone. Also, report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.
Inquirer real estate writer Alan J. Heavens is the author of "Remodeling On the Money" (Kaplan Publishing). His home-improvement columns appear Fridays in Home & Design.