Assistant Attorney General Lois Booker-Williams spoke to city residents at the Queens office of the state Workers' Compensation Board on a number of issues plaguing innocent consumers across the state. She said that though crooked business owners and scam artists are becoming more sophisticated with their schemes New Yorkers can still protect themselves if they become consumer savvy."The attorney general's goal was to make sure as many members of his staff went out and spoke to as many people as possible," she said.Although there are dozens of ways consumers could fall victim to fraud, such as identity theft or Internet phishing, in which scammers try to obtain personal information through e-mails that look like they come from legitimate organizations, Booker-Williams said. Two of the growing problems are predatory lending and scams targeted at college students.She said too many homeowners are losing their homes because they are being tricked by lenders who offer them contracts with a lot of fine print. What may appear to be a low interest mortgage on paper could in reality change into a high-interest loan within a matter of months."Many times when we get calls from consumers they say the dealer had us sign these documents and we didn't see the product or understand the terms of the deal," Booker-Williams said.The assistant attorney general said the best defense against such tactics is for consumers to ignore a lender's persuasions and reassurances and read all the paperwork for themselves. She instructed consumers that if there was something in the paperwork that they did not understand, ask for clarification.Booker-Williams said another problem that concerns her office is predatory college loans.Too many students have applied and accepted pricey loans, according to the assistant attorney general, because banks and lenders have worked with the financial aid offices of those institutions, like St. John's University, and made it seem like it is the only aid available when there were other resources like the federal government's Free Application for Federal Student Aid. "You can always apply for FAFSA for your children's financial aid. It's free and provides them with federal financial aid that is legit," she said.The forum was part of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's statewide programs for Consumer Protection Week. Representatives from his office held dozens of events to help consumers keep on their toes against fraud."I think this was an excellent presentation. We are always doing everything we can to educate our consumers," Booker-Williams said after the event. .Juliana Blackburn of Brooklyn, who attended the information session in Jamaica, was grateful for the attorney general's outreach."She answered my questions well. It does help to understand our rights," she said.For more information on consumer fraud, call the state attorney general's consumer help line at 1-800-771-7755 or log on to www.oag.state.ny.us.Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@t
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