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Should you refinance your mortgage?

December 19, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
A record number of homeowners are facing foreclosure, and many more are worried about keeping up with their mortgage payments in this recession. So some people are trying to modify their loans. But ABC7 Consumer Specialist Ric Romero warns that some companies are taking advantage of their fears.In just about every disaster, there are scam artists who prey on consumers in trouble. Scams in the current economy involve loan modifications, but there is some advice to help you avoid becoming a victim.

There is no place like home for the Harry family, and they're working hard to make sure they can keep it. Their mortgage has an adjustable interest rate, so they want to modify it now to make sure they don't get burned later.

"You always hear stories out there about people getting scammed. So we're just hoping that we can find someone we can trust or some sort of program out there that can help us stay in our home," said Amanda and Dean Harry.

The shaky economy is making mortgage modification a big business.

"Thousands and thousands are being done every month," said Laurie Maggiano, Housing and Urban Development.

And along with the legitimate agencies, some unscrupulous companies are also getting in on the action.

"We're hearing probably every 2-3 weeks about a new scam," said John Snyder, Neighbor Works America.

Strapped homeowners are getting e-mail spam and unsolicited letters. Even when they look on their own for help, they can become easily overwhelmed.

"It's very difficult for someone who is confused, concerned and very anxious to sort through all of that information," said Maggiano.

The issue is further complicated by the fact many of the spin-off companies use names very similar to the legitimate ones, so it's hard to know who to trust.

"They'll say, 'We can guarantee your payment will be reduced by 50 percent; we can guarantee that your lender will extend your terms out to 40 years; we will guarantee your interest rate will be reduced by 3 percent.' These are all pulled out of the air," said Snyder.

Another red flag is a required fee, which could range from hundreds to thousands of dollars. The government says these companies are preying on the most vulnerable.

"If the borrower has that kind of money, they should be using it to help reinstate their loans rather than pay it to a third party," said Maggiano.

Experts say your first step should be to call your current lender directly to try to modify your mortgage or work through a HUD certified counselor.

For a list of trustworthy groups, go to www.fha.gov, or call (888) 995-HOPE. You'll be able to get a list of HUD certified counselors who will charge nothing, or very little to help you modify your mortgage.


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