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Beware loan-modification, foreclosure scams

June 15, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
One in nine homeowners nationwide are more than 90 days behind on their mortgage payments and fear of foreclosure has desperate homeowners turning to loan modifications or foreclosure rescue companies for help. But that may be a recipe to falling prey to a foreclosure scam.

Foreclosure scammers will promise you everything while using a wide variety of tactics and targets like asking for an upfront fee and then disappearing with your money. Since foreclosure laws can be complex and confusing, almost anyone can become a victim.

Gloria Gutierrez spends most of her time at home, a home she happily purchased six years ago.

"I never felt in a place like I felt in this house," said Gutierrez, who fell victim to a foreclosure scam.

A year later, the housing market took a turn for the worse and so did her life. After trying to contact the bank for almost two years, Gutierrez turned to a loan modification rescue company to help save her home.

"She gave us like kind of the requirements, this is what we can do," said Gutierrez.

There was a catch: 50 percent of the money needed to be paid up front.

"We said, Well, we don't have anything to lose -- let's try," said Gutierrez.

But after 10 months, countless emails and no progress, Gutierrez realized something wasn't right.

"It was always sending papers and sending us back and 'Can you send this again, the bank told us they didn't receive anything -- don't contact the bank while we're doing this,'" said Gutierrez.

Housing counselor Holly Hillbrand says Gutierrez is just one of thousands of desperate homeowners falling prey to scammers.

"The scam artist will go through public files, government offices. All these things are public records, take notes, send personalized letters to the homeowners," said Hillbrand.

Here are some red flags to help you spot a scam:

  1. They ask for an upfront fee to start work, which is illegal in California.
  2. They'll promise, even guarantee, to secure a loan modification even before learning about the homeowner's financial limitations.
  3. They'll tell you to stop making your mortgage payments, going as far as encouraging you to provide fraudulent information to your lender.
"Know your rights, know who you are speaking with, and don't sign a single document until you understand exactly what that document means," said Hillbrand.

Gutierrez has lost almost $2,000, but she hopes speaking out will help others avoid a similar situation.

"This is our only house, this is not an investment," said Gutierrez. "This is not something that we have to make money off of it. This is our home."

Experts say if you find yourself at risk for foreclosure the first step is to look for a nonprofit, HUD-approved counselor and be wary of guarantees. They also say if you do get caught in a scam, to contact the Better Business Bureau and the county district attorney's office immediately.


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