The housing market in the United States may not be thriving, but business is booming for foreclosure rescue and loan modification scammers.
The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in July 2010 entitled "Home Ownership Preservation". It says that: "The current foreclosure crisis has provided persons who may perpetrate mortgage foreclosure rescue and loan modification schemes with unprecedented opportunities to profit from homeowners desperate to save their homes. In March 2010, we reported that national default and foreclosure rates rose sharply from 2005 through 2009, to the highest level in 29 years. The most recent data from the Mortgage Bankers Association, which are for the first quarter of 2010, show that the number of home loans with payments more than 60 days past due, and therefore potentially facing foreclosure, is 2.7 million."
The GAO report says there are two main types of foreclosure rescue and loan modification scams: advance-fee loan modification schemes and sales-leaseback schemes, with advance-fee schemes being the most common. In an advance-fee scheme, someone charges you a fee in advance to negotiate a deal with your mortgage lender. They may even offer a money-back guarantee. But the usual outcome is that they take your money (the average is about $3,000), provide little or no service, and then refuse to refund the fee. In a sales-leaseback scheme, the scammer persuades you to transfer your deed to them by offering to assume your payments and let you pay rent while you get your affairs in order. They promise to sell the property back to you once your financial situation improves, but, of course, they don't. Often they take out another loan on the home or even sell it out from under you.
The Federal Trade Commission reports on a new twist on the advance-fee scam that's showing up this year, a "forensic mortgage loan audit." The scammer offers to find regulatory violations in your original mortgage that will help you avoid foreclosure or even cancel your loan. There's no evidence that anyone has ever succeeded in modifying their loan using this approach.
Here are some “red flags” that at-risk homeowners should watch out for when looking for foreclosure help, courtesy of the FTC. You should avoid any business that:
- guarantees to stop the foreclosure process – no matter what your circumstances
- instructs you not to contact your lender, lawyer, or credit or housing counselor
- collects a fee before providing you with any services
- accepts payment only by cashier’s check or wire transfer
- encourages you to lease your home so you can buy it back over time
- tells you to make your mortgage payments directly to it, rather than your lender
- tells you to transfer your property deed or title to it
- offers to buy your house for cash at a fixed price that is not set by the housing market at the time of sale
- offers to fill out paperwork for you
- pressures you to sign paperwork you haven’t had a chance to read thoroughly or that you don’t understand.