The mortgage trap


POSTED: Monday, April 20, 2009

With the rise of foreclosures comes an unfortunate trend — the rise of foreclosure scams.




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Steve Levins, executive director of the state Office of Consumer Protection, said the number of such scams is increasing in Hawaii. The state has taken action against three companies, while several others are under investigation.

Scammers are preying on people in desperate situations. Sometimes, it's the same unscrupulous people who offered bad mortgages who are now going back to offer fraudulent bailout plans.

Here's the deal: Facing a foreclosure is a scary prospect, but don't act out of desperation before considering all of your options, and don't trust anyone who comes knocking on your door with free advice.

Steer clear of any companies soliciting to bail you out of foreclosure, whether by mail, phone or e-mail. There are a number of scammers posing as loan-modification specialists or foreclosure rescue operations.

What many of them do is scan published foreclosure notices for their target victims. Some advertise themselves on TV or in flyers that say “;Stop Foreclosure Now!”;

Some will claim that they have special relationships with banks that can speed up case approvals, or that that they will offer a free consultation. Some will guarantee that they can stop the foreclosure process.

Here are the various scenarios (which you also can read about in detail on the Federal Trade Commission Web site).

» Sign over title to your property and rent-to-buy scheme.

The most common scenario these days is for a company claiming it can rescue you from a foreclosure to ask you to sign over the title or deed to your house, and pay rent as part of the deal.

You're told that the company can secure new financing while you remain in the home, and that you can buy back the home later.

Don't sign any papers. You could lose the home, and get evicted, while the scammer walks away with all of the years of equity you've built up.

» We'll help you get out of foreclosure for a fee.

Foreclosure scammers also promise to negotiate with your lender on your behalf for an upfront fee, typically a couple of thousand dollars. They may tell you not to contact your lender, lawyer or credit counselor.

But what they do is pocket your money and walk away. Sometimes these scammers file a bankruptcy case in your name, which only stops a home foreclosure temporarily.

Don't pay any upfront fees. You eventually could lose your home, as well as the fees you paid. If a bankruptcy was filed, with or without your knowledge, it stays on your credit report for 10 years.

Companies soliciting to help you get out of foreclosure for an upfront fee before providing services may be violating the law, according to Levins. “;If they're doing it, we want to know about it,”; he said.

As far as foreclosure solutions go, there are government-approved groups that can assist you, without charge. Levins also recommends doing your due diligence on refinancing options, and not to offer any personal information over the phone to solicitors.


What you should do

» Talk to your lender first. It's best to let your lender know what's going on instead of ignoring the situation. You may be able to negotiate a new repayment schedule.

» Contact a HUD-approved organization. A list of groups that can offer you free foreclosure prevention counseling services, such as the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii and the Hawaii Homeownership Center, is available at www.hud.gov (search for agency contacts by state).

» You also can contact a credit counselor through the Homeownership Preservation Foundation's toll-free line at 1-888-995-HOPE.