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‘New low’ in mortgage modification scams
Friday, March 13, 2009
California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today warned that scam artists have "sunk to a new low" and have used the forged letterhead of major lenders to con worried Californians into paying thousands of dollars for non-existent loan modification services.
"Scam artists have sunk to a new low and are using the forged letterhead of lenders to con worried Californians into handing over their hard-earned money," Attorney General Brown said. "Californians should be deeply skeptical of anyone who demands money up front and makes extravagant promises that they can save their home."
Attorney General Brown also advised consumers about seven steps they can take to protect themselves from loan modification fraud. (See below).
Today's warning comes on the heels of the arrest Wednesday of Anna Santos, 22, a key player in a loan modification scam using forged letterhead, on charges of money-laundering, conspiracy, and four-counts of grand theft.
Santos joined with members of the defunct First Gov loan modification ring in a separate criminal enterprise with a disturbing twist. They used forged mail and envelopes that appeared to be from victims' lenders.
Santos obtained a fictitious business permit through the City of Los Angeles for "Payment Processing Department." She opened several bank accounts and two post office boxes under that name. She and other members of the ring mailed flyers that appeared to be from victims' lenders or a government entity. The flyer used a large, bold header that read "Final Notice" and advised homeowners that they qualified for a special program to save their home from foreclosure.
After providing their mortgage information, homeowners received what appeared to be "confirmation" that the lender had been notified about the loan modification. Many victims also received loan modification documents that appeared to be from the victim's lender. The documents were of course forgeries.
The victims were informed they had been placed in a "probationary" program and their mortgage payments should be submitted to "Payment Processing Department" and sent to a given post office box address. None of the payments were credited to the victims' home loans.
Payments sent to the post office box were retrieved by Ms. Santos and deposited into the bank accounts she had opened. The money was then transferred to bank accounts held by other members of the ring.
Many victims paid over $6,000 to this loan modification scam.
Here's what homeowners can do to avoid becoming a victim:
- Don't pay money to people who promise to work with your lender to modify your loan. It is unlawful for foreclosure consultants to collect money before (1) they give you a written contract describing the services they promise to provide and (2) they actually perform all the services described in the contract, such as negotiating new monthly payments or a new mortgage loan. However, an advance fee may be charged by an attorney, or by a real estate broker who has submitted the advance fee agreement to the Department of Real Estate, new window, for review.
- Do call your lender yourself. Your lender wants to hear from you, and will likely be much more willing to work directly with you than with a foreclosure consultant.
- Don't transfer titled or sell your house to the foreclosure rescuer. Fraudulent foreclosure consultants often promise that if the homeowners transfer title, they may stay in the home as renters and buy their home back later. The foreclosure consultants claim that transfer is necessary so that someone with a better credit rating can obtain a new loan to prevent foreclosure. BEWARE! This is a common scheme so-called "rescuers" use to evict homeowners and steal all or most of the home's equity.
- Don't pay money upfront to people who promise to work with your lender to modify your loan. It is unlawful for foreclosure consultants to collect before 1) they give you a written contract describing the services they promise to proved and 2) they actually perform all the services described in the contract, such as negotiating new monthly payments or a new mortgage loan.
- Don't pay your mortgage payments to someone other than your lender or loan servicer, even if he or she promises to pass the payment on. Fradulent foreclosure consultants often keep the money for themselves.
- Don't sign any documents without reading them first. Many homeowners think that they are signing documents for a new loan to pay off the mortgage they are behind on. Later, they discover that they actually transferred ownership to the "rescuer."
- Don't ignore letters from your lender. Consider contacting your lender yourself, many lenders are willing to work with homeowners who are behind on their payments.
- Do contact housing counselor approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), who may be able to help you for free. For a referral to a housing counselor near you, contact HUD at 1-800-569-4287 (TTY: 1-800-877-8339) or at www.hud.gov.
If you transferred your property or paid someone to "rescue" you from foreclosure, you may be a crime victim. You can file a complaint with the Attorney General's Office at the following address: Office of the Attorney General - Public Inquiry Unit, P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA. 94244, or at the AG's Internet site.
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