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Homeowners, don't become a victim of a home equity scam! As a homeowner, one of the most valuable assets you have is the equity in your home. Your equity is the money you have paid over time towards the cost of your home. Con artists may try different schemes to get you to borrow against the value of your home or mortgage your equity at outrageous interest rates. As a result, you may be unable to meet the payments and could wind up losing your home!

It is important to know your rights so that you can avoid becoming a victim of home equity fraud. These schemes could start with a phone call or a knock on your door. You may be offered help with home repairs or with work around the house at a seemingly reasonable price. Be a smart consumer. Don't be fooled. You can take steps to protect yourself and your home.

1. Don't hire a stranger until you have thoroughly checked his or her references; ask for the names and telephone numbers of other customers who have used the service.

2. Check with the Better Business Bureau or a local or state Office of Consumer Affairs to see whether or not complaints have been filed against the person or business you are considering.

3. Never sign anything without carefully checking it and be sure you understand and agree to all provisions in a contract or agreement.

4. Never rely on someone to explain parts of an agreement to you unless it is someone you know and trust. Read the fine print for yourself.

5. It is not a good idea to pay for repairs in advance. Be sure the work is completed to your satisfaction before you make the final payment.

6. Talk to a housing counselor about options available to you; most areas have knowledgeable people who can help you evaluate your choice and make the best decision. You can find a housing counselor by calling your local legal services office or housing department.

Be informed. Get all the facts before entering into any agreement. If you think you have been a victim of a scam involving home equity fraud, contact your Attorney General's office. For more information on Home Equity Fraud and Home Repair Scams, please ask for AARP's Senior Consumer Alert on Home Improvement Rip-offs (D14846) or Senior Consumer Alert on Home Equity Scams (D12842), published by the Consumer Affairs Section.

They are available without charge from AARP Fulfillment, 601 E Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20049, tel 800-424-3410.

Copyright 1994 by the American Association of Retired Persons.

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