November 16, 2020

Be wary of "foreclosure rescue" scams

If it can happen in 2020, chances are it will. With Covid-19 turning the economy upside-down, millions of homeowners are struggling to pay their mortgages.

In March, the federal government passed the CARES Act, featuring a 60-day hold on foreclosures and up to a year's forbearance on mortgages. With these plans moving closer to sunset, roughly 2.735 million loans remain in coronavirus-related forbearance, carrying an unpaid balance of $559 billion.

Sadly, there are folks who will take advantage of those facing financial trouble. These foreclosure fraudsters use a variety of approaches, but most have similarities.

Legitimate help is available. Contact your lender to ask about options on the table, including loan modification and extended forbearance. There are no easy fixes -- be suspicious of anyone who makes it sound as if there are.

Sometimes referring to themselves as "foreclosure rescue companies,” they find distressed homeowners by combing through local newspapers, online, or through public filings. Fraudsters may phone, send an official-looking letter, or drop a flyer or business card at your front door.

Beware of “auditors” who want to conduct an "Independent Foreclosure Home Loan Review" or a "securitization review.” They may claim to be an attorney or a former loan officer who knows the business well enough to land you a sweet loan modification.

Anyone who wants payment up front is a major red flag. Once you pay the requested fee, you likely will never hear from them again.

They usually tell you not to contact your lender, lawyer, or credit counselor - that’s also a big red flag. The “offer” usually comes with a promise they’ll negotiate on your behalf.

Watch out for anyone who pressures you to sign papers before you have a chance to study them. According to the federal Mortgage Assistance Relief Services (MARS) rule, a legitimate company can’t collect any fees until a homeowner has accepted an offer of relief. That offer can only come from the lender.

Email “phishing” scams are also popular. Using public information, scammers send out bogus emails to the folks they identify.

Many represent themselves as having an affiliation with a governmental agency. Some even pose as the agency itself. They will convincingly promise to reduce your monthly mortgage payment or take other steps to save your home. Some even offer a money-back guarantee.

A real federal department will never request your contact information, Social Security number, banking information or credit card numbers. Look for oddities in the email, such as sloppy grammar and spelling, or unusual greetings.

As easy as it sounds, it's best to just ignore these offer. Just hang up the phone, and do not respond to letters, advertisements or emails that sound too good to be true.