Real state scams often prey on the desperate, masquerading as legitimate companies working in various areas of the housing industry. Along with schemes such as the Nigerian money transfer, fake ownership and other obvious rip-offs, scammers are taking aim at investors and homeowners struggling to keep up with mortgage payments.
After the housing crash of a few years ago, a variety of mortgage relief programs, or mortgage bailouts, appeared. Legitimately offered by government housing agencies and federally subsidized entities like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, as well as private lenders such as credit unions and banks, these programs offered struggling property owners a chance to refinance a mortgage in danger of default, or to work out payment arrangements if the mortgage weren’t too far into default.
These programs, available to home owners and investors alike, save homes from foreclosure and short sales by giving a struggling owner time to regroup and manage the mortgage better –at least in the short term. But because of the demand for this kind of help, a number of housing industry scams have stepped in to defraud homeowners in trouble with mortgage payments.
Mortgage relief scams top the list of the Federal Trade commission’s most common complaints year after year and continue to flourish because of the housing collapse and its aftermath. Targeting those in foreclosure or on the brink, these scams turn up in the form of companies that promise to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure.
Many scam companies claim that they represent the lender who holds the mortgage, a government entity sponsoring the mortgage relief program. They might call themselves a law firm or credit-counseling bureau. Their pitch to homeowners claims that for a fee, they’ll take care of all the details involved in getting mortgages refinanced, payments reduced, or even a payment holiday. They may also tell homeowners to make mortgage payments directly to them, or that they’re collecting them on behalf o the lender.
One major red flag in schemes like this involves secrecy: scammers tell victims not to contact their lenders, or a lawyer, claiming that they’ll handle all aspects of the satiation themselves. They might also guarantee to get a loan modification for everyone, no questions asked. Then, they take the money from fees and mortgage payments and disappear.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) compiles consumer information on avoiding scams, particularly real estate schemes. The FTC lists a number of warning signs for consumers to watch for, such as high pressure sales tactics that warn of dire consequences, extravagant guarantees to help every case, no matter the circumstances, and asking for upfront fees before any services are provided.
For investors and residential homeowners alike, there are legitimate avenues for modifying troubled mortgages. And to protect consumers against mortgage relief fraud, the FTC has implemented the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services (MARS) Rule, which makes it illegal for companies to collect fees until the homeowner has actually accepted an offer of help directly from the mortgage lender. And the FTC recommends, any fraudulent practices should always be reported to the FTC itself, or the state attorney general’s office. (Top image:Flickr/modery)
The Jason Hartman Team