Feds to crack down on foreclosure relief scams

The 2008 Mortgage Fraud Report “Year in Review” published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation reports that mortgage fraud continues to increase (FBI.gov). Maryland, DC and Virginia are in the top ten states hardest hit by mortgage fraud. Due to a declining real estate market, the FBI states that incidents of mortgage relief scams will continue to rise through this year and is expected to increase in the future. Property flipping, short sales, and foreclosure rescues continue to be the main schemes perpetuated; however, new forms of the scams are appearing as reverse mortgage fraud, credit enhancements, condo conversions, pump and pay and loan modifications.

In an effort to cut down on mortgage relief scams, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC.gov) is launching an initiative to educate consumers and prosecute those allegedly involved in defrauding home owners. In a press release dated July 15th the FTC announced the launch of “Real People, Real Stories,” as well as four law suits involving foreclosure relief deception (there have been a total of fourteen such cases since April!).

“Real People, Real Stories” is a video that will educate home owners on foreclosure relief scams and deceptive practices. Actual home owners who were deceived by scammers were interviewed for the video; they divulge and expose how the scammers approached them and operated. The video advises home owners to investigate anyone offering a foreclosure relief program. Home owners are also warned that many foreclosure relief programs have the words “federal,” “U.S.” or “government” in the name, but in reality may not be associated with a government entity.

The video is also a promotion for the Hope Now alliance (HopeNow.com). Hope Now is a partnership of lenders, non-profit organizations, and other mortgage industry participants who are dedicated to offering a coordinated plan to assist home owners.

Operation Loan Lies is a nationally coordinated law enforcement effort to put an end to mortgage relief scams. Actions taken by 25 federal and state agencies are directed toward those who “deceptively marketed foreclosure rescue and mortgage modification services.” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz was quoted in the press release as saying; “These con artists see the high foreclosure rates as an opportunity to prey on people in distress…”

Alleged actions by targeted foreclosure relief companies across the country include (but is not limited to) false claims of services, experience and success rates, violating (state) laws prohibiting collecting fees prior to providing services (some up to $5,500), “Do-Not-Call” violations, and misrepresentation.

If you or someone you know is facing financial challenges or foreclosure, Hope Now can connect you to HUD certified counseling agencies. Hope Now resources include instructions on contacting lenders as well as a lender contact list, local counseling agencies, and government agencies. Hope Now also offers a hotline so homeowners can call toll free, 1-888-995-HOPE.

Don’t become another statistic, investigate anyone that offers you foreclosure relief by calling Hope Now as well as local consumer protection agencies (such as the Maryland Attorney General Office Consumer Protection Division, and the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection). If you suspect a foreclosure relief scam, the FTC would like your help by reporting such activity by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP; complaints are collected and given to federal and local law enforcement agencies.

By Dan Krell
Copyright © 2009

This column is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice.