It's amazing how many borrowers come to me with an impossible interest rate offer that they received in an unsolicited email or saw on a Web site. And they want to know why their lender down the street won't give them that rate. I tell them it's probably the same reason that their doctor can't give them a pill to take off thirty pounds in two days--it's not real. There are plenty of online "lenders" that do not intend to do your mortgage ever. But they do want your private information to sell. So go ahead and reply to that email and apply for that 3% 30-year loan that requires no credit check. If identity theft gives you some sort of thrill.

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That's exactly what happened in December, when the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) pulled down a company called 30 Minute Mortgage Inc. This Internet outfit e-mailed spam offers for "3.95% 30 Year Mortgages" to gazillions of people and yet never made a single loan. In fact, 30 Minute Mortgage was not a lending institution of any kind. But the FTC says the dirtbags did manage to obtain thousands of consumers' private information. These hopeful geeks filled out applications including their Social Security numbers, income, assets, and other information, which was then secretly sold to third parties.

Even if scammy companies sell your private information to legitimate mortgage lenders, you may still suffer: Worst case, eager-beaver lenders run credit reports before even contacting you, which can lower your credit scores. And you may be pestered with unwelcome calls, months after you actually complete your refinance.

The FTC encourages consumers to make sure their mortgage refinances, whether obtained online or not, are secure and that their personal information is protected. Find tips to help you manage your personal information wisely and to avoid its misuse HERE.

The FTC recommends that you:

  • Never respond to an email or phone solicitation unless you have established a relationship with the company;
  • Never, ever click on a link from an unsolicited email offer. If the offer is from a known company, avoid phishing sites by going through an established "front door" ( the company's Web address or telephone number).

Online shopping is a great way to see what interest rates are out there and what programs you qualify for, especially if you need a mortgage and are handicapped by bad credit. And there is a safe way to do it, and I'm proud to say it's on this site. The online form you fill out here requires no personal information, no breach of security, and only takes a minute. Lenders come to you, but you control the amount of contact you get. And your information remains perfectly safe.