Mina Shahab lives in a cramped apartment in Woodland Hills. She shares it with her brother who is stricken with cancer. A few years ago, she took out two loans and bought a spacious four-bedroom home in Northridge.
It was the American dream for the native of Iran who came here looking for freedom. But she lost her job, and then lost her home to foreclosure.
"I love this country, and seeing this happen to its citizens is very painful," she said.
This should have been the end of the story. Once a house is sold in foreclosure, California law protects homeowners from being pursued for any other debts on the same property. But Shahab started to get calls from a company she had never heard of before.
"They were terrible," she said.
Shahab was being pursued by a company in Plano, Texas, called Heritage Pacific Financial. They wanted money for her second mortgage.
"They were after me to really scare me first by threatening me," she said. "(They said) this is fraud and I said what fraud? I bought a house, I was a realtor, I had income," she said.
The company is run by Chris and Ben Ganter, identical twin brothers who starred in their own reality TV show about making money in the real estate boom. The company says California law allows them to collect on second mortgages where they can prove borrowers committed fraud.
Several years ago with the housing market in panic, Heritage Pacific bought 40,000 second mortgage notes on foreclosed homes in California, looking for borrowers to sue.
"They had sued hundreds and hundreds of people and with identical lawsuits," said Will Kennedy, a consumer law attorney in Northern California.
The lawsuits accused people of lying about their employment, income and residence. The company sent out letters offering to go away if borrowers would pay a portion of the original loan.
"What they're banking on is that most consumers don't know their rights and don't have the financial ability to hire an attorney, and they pressure them to pay. And many people, unfortunately, do pay," Kennedy said.
Heritage Pacific is being challenged in court. There is a class-action lawsuit in Santa Clara County that calls the company's practices "an insidious and illegal debt collecting scheme."
"I believe they're just profiteering on people's misery. I think that's their fundamental business model, and they get away with it because most people don't have the means to protect themselves," Kennedy said.
The Ganters would not comment on the lawsuit, but they told California Watch they are helping to prevent mortgage fraud by pursuing people who deceived banks into loaning them money for houses they couldn't afford.
In Shahab's case, court records show her case was dismissed, but the fight has left her life shattered.
"They should answer all the questions. Why (do) they do this to people?" she said.
The Ganters still have thousands of second mortgages representing millions of dollars of potential claims against Californians who've already lost their homes.