06/03/2007DEAR ABBY: In light of the recent headlines about sub-prime lending, may I offer some advice to the tens of thousands of seniors who fall victim to predatory lending every year? Bet Tzedek -- The House of Justice, the organization I lead in Los Angeles, offers free legal services to help people who have lost their homes to fraud and predatory lending.
Seniors can do several things to avoid being taken advantage of.
First: Any senior facing financial problems should confide in family and friends. Each year, homeowners consult us because they're in imminent danger of losing their homes and they were too ashamed to ask family members or friends for help or advice until it was too late. Shame too often drives seniors to strangers who promise quick fixes.
Second: Seniors who are behind on their mortgage should contact their lender. If possible, the lender will try to work something out with the borrower to avoid foreclosure. For help working with the lender, the senior should call a HUD-certified counseling agency, which can give the senior advice on all available financial options.
Third: Stay away from people who come to the door offering to "rescue" the house from foreclosure!
And finally, people thinking about obtaining a home loan should be sure they understand the language in their loan documents before signing them and should be particularly careful before agreeing to an adjustable-rate loan.
I hope that seniors everywhere will take these simple, proactive steps to protect their financial well-being. -- MITCHELL A. KAMIN, CEO, BET TZEDEK LEGAL SERVICES
DEAR MITCHELL: So do I. Thank you for your helpful letter, and for reaching out to help seniors nationwide.
However, seniors are not the only people who have been victims of fraud and predatory lending practices. I'm sad to say, minorities have also been targeted. Because this problem has been so widespread, I am listing additional resources for people of all ages who may have been affected:
(1) Your local Department of Consumer Affairs. Most local municipalities have one, often with a public complaint phone number.
(2). The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
(3) Local law enforcement. Many police departments and prosecutors have units to deal with financial crimes and abuse.
(4) The National Consumer Law Center (www.consumerlaw.org), which offers referrals and resources for consumers.
(5) ACORN. Its Web site -- www.acorn.org -- has information about local offices and resources available nationally. You may also call (866) 67-ACORN.
(6) Your local Better Business Bureau and/or Chamber of Commerce.
DEAR ABBY: Is it proper etiquette to send condolences for a death by e-mail? -- JOHN T., WINSLOW, ILL.
DEAR JOHN: The experts are divided on this. It's better than nothing, I suppose. Of course, the test would be to ask yourself how you would feel if condolences on the death of your loved one were extended this way.
Consider receiving something like this: "Dear John: Sor-E 2 hear about UR Dad. :( Please accept R sympathy." If that's what you'd want, go ahead and hit "send." Personally, I think sending something a bit less casual would be more appropriate.
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.
To order "How to Write Letters for All Occasions," send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Letter Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)