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Kevin Hunt: Mortgage-Audit Scam Victim Gets Her Money Back (From State Of Utah?)


Kevin Hunt - The Bottom Line

The Bottom Line

6:04 PM EDT, June 17, 2013

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Money lost in a scam is usually money lost forever. Mari Merwin of New Britain, a victim of a "mortgage audit" scam, now knows that's not always true.

In a Bottom Line column last December, Merwin described how she paid $299 to the Mortgage Auditing Program, Division of Consumer Services, in Utah, to analyze her mortgage. (Read it here.)

She'd get the money back, she was told, "if my mortgage payment was not miscalculated."

The Federal Trade Commission warned consumers earlier that year about the uselessness of forensic audits, "even if they're conducted by a licensed and trained auditor, mortgage professional or lawyer."

Thanks to Merwin, TBL readers learned the dangers of the mortgage-audit scam. It appeared too late to help Merwin because the company behind the scam, AMT Auditing Services, was out of business. But then the Utah Department of Commerce read about Merwin and called.

"Our consumer protection investigator is very interested in having your consumer file a complaint with our division concerning AMT Auditing," said Jennifer Bolton, the Utah Department of Commerce's public information officer, "because she may be eligible for a refund."

Two weeks later, the department announced a settlement in the telephone-solicitation case, including restitution to any victim who filed a complaint with the state and could verify payment to AMT.

Merwin contacted Adam Watson, the Utah Division of Consumer Protection's investigator on the case, filed the complaint and waited.

A little more than a week ago, Merwin received a check for $299 from the state of Utah. That' a victory for Utah, and a big surprise for Merwin.

"It was the full amount!" she says. "I was smart in bringing the problem to you, though I was dumb in getting caught in this scam."

Coming From iPhone:A Security 'Kill Switch'

It's almost too easy to steal a mobile phone.

Almost a third of thefts in the United States include a mobile phone, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Last year, according to data compiled by Consumer Reports, mobile phones belonging to 2.8 million Americans were either stolen or lost permanently.

A mandatory kill-switch, which renders a stolen or lost phone unusable, might also kill the resale value and ultimately reduce theft. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon have formed a Secure Our Smartphones Initiative to encourage the cellphone industry to help reduce theft using a "technological solution." (Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen is also part of the initiative.)

Apple's new iOs 7, announced last week, will add a kill feature called an Activation Lock as part of its Find My iPhone app. When the new operating system arrives this fall, users will not only know the GPS location of their missing or stolen iPhone but also may lock the phone and, if desired, erase its contents.

But experienced Smartphone thieves know that turning off a stolen phone immediately defeats Find My iPhone. When the Activation Lock arrives, as soon as that iPhone is turned on, the actual owner can clean out its contents.

Talkback

A response to a TBL column earlier this month (read it at bit.ly/11iMCFz) about a Rocky Hill resident dissatisfied with the handling of a utility pole downed in a car crash last Christmas Eve in front of his house:

"I'm a utility worker. Here's what Mark really needs to know about the broken pole:

"When poles are broken the first responders make the scene safe immediately. The next order of business is to reconstruct things — if possible — and restore services to customers as quickly as can be managed. Reconstruction is not the same as restoration and it most often involves multiple utilities.

"If there is not sufficient manpower available at the time of the accident, temporary repairs will be made and the final reconstruction will be scheduled at the convenience of the utilities. This happens from time to time. Under no circumstances would any utility leave a hazard to the public. Period."

Name withheld by request