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Financial services tops BBB's LI complaints list

Randy Mancini, 45, a car salesman in Coram, and Susan Malone, 53, a payroll account clerk in Farmingville, filed complaints last year with the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York against the Norton Law Group Pllc in Oakdale, charging the firm did not provide the mortgage loan modification services for which they had paid.

Theirs were just two of the 1,335 financial services complaints that boosted that category to the top slot in a list of business complaints for Long Island in 2009.

In these difficult economic times, some companies are "coming out of the woodwork . . . and taking advantage of consumers in financial distress," said Brian Rauer, executive director of the Mid-Hudson and Long Island Better Business Bureaus. The financial services category also topped the list for the entire metropolitan region, with 7,580 complaints.

Though not on either Top 10 list, work-from-home schemes showed significant growth, said Rauer, with 424 complaints for the metropolitan area, up 21/2 times since 2008. In such schemes, consumers are hired for jobs such as mystery shopper or financial agent, receive checks that they deposit in their personal accounts, and wire money to the scammers, only to find those checks were bogus. Some find they also have become victims of identity theft, the Better Business Bureau said.

Scammers have been "preying on those who are out of work and desperate for jobs," Rauer said.

Mancini said he's been trying to get a refund of the $1,800 fee he paid to have his mortgage payment reduced, as he said the firm did not complete the loan modification or return his calls.

Malone said she paid a $4,000 fee for the firm to negotiate with her lender and get her a reduced mortgage payment. She said that did not happen and she had trouble reaching the firm. Six months ago she did it herself, taking advantage of a government mortgage relief program, which cut her payment nearly in half.

Chris McDonough, attorney for the Norton Law Group, said in an e-mail: "My client is already aware of these two clients' claims, and as a professional law firm my clients will address these complaints fairly and professionally; and in the proper forum."

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