Con artists are calling or emailing homeowners and other borrowers promising to give them money or gifts for completing a fast "consumer survey."
Q. A company that claims to be my mortgage lender has sent me two emails recently, asking me to take part in "an online customer-satisfaction survey" and promising to credit my checking account with $100 if I complete it. The extra money would come in handy, but I've heard so much about online scams that I'm afraid that it's a rip-off. What do you think?
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A. I think that you're wise to be wary. Though some financial institutions and other types of companies use the Internet or telephone to conduct legitimate surveys, a growing number of con artists are cashing in on the trend by launching illicit scams to rob you of your personal identity and money.
The Better Business Bureau says it's understandable why many people fall for such scams: The emails often include the bank's official logo, and sometimes promise more than $200 for a few minutes of the customer's time. But once the survey is completed, the respondent is then asked to provide valuable personal information -- checking account or credit-card numbers, a Social Security number or the like -- sometimes under the guise that the info is required so the cash supposedly can be credited to the consumer's account.
That's all that is needed by a clever scamster to steal your identity and drain your savings. In some cases, merely opening the email or downloading an attached file can automatically install malware on your computer that can destroy its operating system or let a hacker take control of it.
There are a couple of tipoffs that such survey offers may be a scam. Bogus offers are often addressed merely to "Dear Customer" rather than a specific individual, the BBB says. And they're often riddled with typographical errors or improper grammar, in part because many computer-related scams originate in non-English-speaking countries.
If the email includes a telephone number to call to complete the survey, don't call it. Dial the lender's customer-service phone number instead, which should be listed on your most recent statement.
If the offer is legit, a bona fide service representative should be able to confirm it and direct you to the proper survey taker.
Q. I bought my house in 2006 when I was still a single woman, and took title as "sole owner." I got married two years ago and took my husband's last name, but never added his name to the title or changed my name on the deed. Now we want to sell. Will the fact that the title still lists me under my maiden name as the sole owner cause delays during the closing process?
A. Don't worry. Changing your name won't cause any major problems when you find a buyer and open escrow to complete the sale.
Millions of people change their name every year, and most of them are recently married women who take the last name of their new husband. More than likely, the title company's representative or other closing professional who is involved in your upcoming sale simply will have you sign the needed documents using your married name and note that you "took title as" someone with a different name.
To illustrate, let's say you bought the home when you were unmarried and took title as Sally Single but changed it to Sally Jones after you got married. The title officer, closing attorney or escrow agent overseeing the sale would have you sign the documents as Sally Jones, "who took title as Sally Single." This simple step should help you avoid any major delays in processing the transaction.
Q. If I create the type of inexpensive living trust that you often recommend so my property can avoid the costly probate process after I die, would there be a limit on the number of people or organizations I choose to be my heirs?
A. No, there's no limit on the number of individuals or groups you can choose to inherit your home and other property after you pass away.
The primary advantage of creating a living trust is that a trust, unlike a common will, allows your heirs to quickly and inexpensively get the property that you want them to inherit after you pass away. One of my former neighbors successfully split her estate among 19 of her descendants by forming an inexpensive trust, and everyone got his or her inheritance within 90 days. Another friend left 50 percent of his property to his son, and split the other half among two charities and his college alma mater. The estate issues were wrapped up in just 75 days.
Many colleges and other nonprofit groups will even pay for your legal expenses to create a basic living trust, providing that you will leave some of your assets to them.
Real estate trivia: Asking prices of homes for sale across the U.S. are up an average of 10.7 percent from a year ago, according to a new study released by realty services giant Trulia.com. A staggering 99 of the nation's 100 largest markets saw increases, and asking prices in the final metro area -- Philadelphia -- are flat but seem poised to rise.
• For the booklet "Straight Talk About Living Trusts," send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers/Trust, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405.
© 2013, Cowles Syndicate Inc.