Saturday, January 11, 2014

How to Avoid Foreclosure Scams and Real Estate Fraud

If you're facing the prospect of foreclosure, you're probably feeling overwhelmed and desperate. Fortunately, there are companies out there that can help you, but there are also those that feed on people when they're most vulnerable. It's important that you only accept help from a reputable company, and not from a dishonest mortgage modification firm whose goal is to make a buck at your expense.

First of all, where can a person find a company that is actually legitimate and accredited? Visit for starters, and click on the link that takes you to their list of Foreclosure Avoidance Counselors. You can search for agencies by state, and then narrow down your search by city or zip code. All the companies listed on HUD's website have been approved by the Department for Housing and Urban Development, and offer services that are free of charge. As the site says, "There is no need to pay a private company for these services."

One caveat is that some of the companies listed might not have staff manning the phones at all times. If you can't get through to anyone at the first office you call, try phoning another agency that's close to where you live. Be patient and determined, or you'll be tempted to sign up with a company that you see on a billboard or television commercial. They're so appealing because they promise to have operators standing by who can save your home-fast! Sadly, most of these companies' assurances are nothing more than hot air.

If you decide that you want to try a private company anyway, there are a few critical things that you need to be aware of to keep yourself from getting taken for a very expensive ride. First of all, if a company demands an up-front fee, walk away. Chances are good that as soon as you hand over the money, the company will vanish from your life. There are some legitimate companies that charge fees for helping homeowners get out of their foreclosure mess, but make sure that you receive some services before handing over a check.

In terms of paid services, don't allow them to charge you hundreds of dollars for making a few phone calls and shuffling papers. There are many companies out there that will charge unreasonable amounts for doing minimal work. This is known as "phantom help," and really does nothing of value for homeowners in trouble. If you're going to pay someone to help you with your foreclosure, opt for a real estate lawyer instead of a mortgage modification company.

Don't ever listen to someone who tells you to make your mortgage payments to them instead of to the bank; they're trying to scam you. Con artists will also encourage you to sever communications with the bank, and to trust that they'll do all the talking for you. Lenders' loss mitigation departments are there to help. They may be difficult to get a hold of at times, but they are your best bet for turning your financial situation around. These sharks are banking on your desperation, your fear, and your ignorance. Ask questions, get them to put each one of their promises in writing, and obtain copies of every piece of paper you sign. Verbal commitments don't hold much weight, so make sure you have a comprehensive paper trail. If a company asks you to sign a contract that has empty lines, don't. They may fill in those blanks with very nasty clauses that result in you signing over the deed to your home.

Read everything the company gives you, and consult with an attorney before signing anything. These companies want you to feel pressured to sign quickly so they can take your money-don't let them push you around. You have every right to review legal documents with a lawyer before signing. If English is not your first language, this step is vitally important. Legalese is difficult to understand for the average English-speaker, so having a language barrier only makes you more vulnerable to these types of scam artists.

Finally, never agree to transfer your deed to a mortgage modification company. They may say that they'll buy the home and then sell it back to you on a rent-to-own basis, but in the majority of cases, homeowners who agree to this scheme get evicted and never see their homes again-yet are still held responsible for paying back the mortgage. Don't let these people kick you while you're down. If you're facing foreclosure, talk to your lender, find a real estate lawyer, and if necessary, locate a HUD-approved counseling agency in your area.

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