Are you facing the threat of losing your home? Be wary of individuals and companies offering to “help” you out of your difficult financial situation. Consumer advocates report an increase in complaints about foreclosure “rescue” scams. These scams specifically target homeowners who are in financial distress. Scam operators may advertise over the Internet and in local publications, plaster posters on telephone poles and at bus stops, stick flyers in people’s front doors or contact people whose homes are listed in public foreclosure notices. Sometimes they direct their appeals to specific religious or ethnic groups.
How the Scam Works
In one scenario, the scam operator offers to “buy” the homeowner’s property by paying off the amount that is overdue on the loan. The scammer convinces the homeowner to deed the property over to a third party. The homeowner is given the option of renting the property with the option to buy it back later. The rent payment on the home is often higher than the homeowner can afford. Frequently, the original homeowner cannot make the rent payment and is evicted from their home. Or, if the homeowner expresses a desire to buy back the property, the scam operator usually sets the price of the home higher than the homeowner can afford.
Hapless homeowners can lose their equity and their homes. Sometimes, the homeowner’s troubles go even deeper. In many cases, the initial mortgage has not been paid off and the deed was never transferred, as promised. Not only is the homeowner faced with eviction from the home, but the scam victim may still owe for the original loan amount.
In other versions of the scam, the homeowner receives a call, text, or email with the promise of lowering the mortgage payment and avoiding foreclosure. The scammer sometimes asks for payment for their services in the form of personal checks or gift cards. A recent victim in Ohio reported to BBB Scam Tracker that she sent $3000 in Walmart gift cards to a scammer asking for payment to help lower her interest rate.
The Better Business Bureau advises consumers who are tempted by such offers to recognize that they are at real risk of losing money, equity, their home or all three.
Carefully consider the following if your mortgage is in arrears or you are facing foreclosure:
- Talk to your lender. Ask about how to restructure your loan payment or refinance. Some foreclosure “rescuers” will offer to “negotiate” with your lender or lawyer. Know that such an offer is likely to involve a significant fee. If you are hesitant to talk to your lender yourself, engage the assistance of a trusted family member.
- Try selling the house on your own to pay off the lender. Signing over a deed in no way releases you from your mortgage responsibilities!
- Don’t allow anyone to complete paperwork for you, or ask you to sign a stack of documents, supposedly to secure a new mortgage. Victims have later learned that they signed a quit-claim deed to their home.
- Beware the personal approach. Some less-than-ethical businesses will stuff a handwritten note in your front door or mailbox that implies that “help” is available from someone you know or who has your interests in mind. Foreclosure scam artists know exactly what neighborhoods to blanket with their offers.
- If a foreclosure “rescuer” instructs you not to contact your mortgage company or your attorney, beware. Your mortgage company is the very business that you should be in touch with! Furthermore, why would you agree to cease contact with your attorney when dealing with complicated financial matters that involve perhaps your biggest investment, your home?
- You should never sign a contract under pressure and never sign away ownership of your property when you don’t intend to sell it. Ask a trusted family member, your attorney or a financial professional to review any paperwork you may be asked to sign.
- Never pay with gift cards. A reputable company will not ask for payment via a gift card.
- Before signing any deals with a potential buyer, contact BBB to request a report on the company and check with your state Attorney General and local government department of consumer affairs.
- Seek foreclosure prevention information. Try calling the HOPE hotline, 888-995-HOPE, for free foreclosure prevention information, or visit their website at 995hope.org. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures website, the HOPE hotline is operated by the Homeownership Preservation Foundation, a nonprofit “dedicated to preserving homeownership and preventing foreclosure.”
Read more about housing scams in BBB’s Scam Alert on Home Title Fraud.
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