July 2009 Archives

July 16, 2009

Beware of Commercial Mortgage Modification Services

Nothing gets my blood boiling faster than when I see struggling homeowners pay thousands of dollars to hire someone to represent them in a mortgage modification negotiation. My advice is always the same: attempt to hook up with a non-profit HUD-approved housing counselor and dump the commercial service. I also suggest they demand their money back and consider reporting the service to their state's attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission since these services are increasingly illegal.

From the time the foreclosure rates started skyrocketing, self-styled foreclosure-rescue operations landed on at-risk homeowners like locusts on wheat fields. When people still had equity in their homes, the operators of these scams would find ways to separate the mark from his or her home ownership -- supposedly as a temporary means of dealing with the foreclosure. It didn't take long for the home's equity to end up with the scammers and the homeowners to end up on the street.

As home values continued to plummet and homeowners were increasingly underwater on their mortgages, the foreclosure rescue operations turned to charging an up-front fee -- typically in the low thousands -- to replace their previous equity-stripping practices. When modification results were not forthcoming in the face of looming foreclosures, homeowners were told to be patient and that everything was on course. At some point, the homes would be sold in foreclosure and calls to the "rescue" company would go unanswered. 

Quick to respond to these obvious scams, many states have passed new legislation that, among other things, prohibited the collection of "foreclosure rescue" fees prior to the delivery of the service. In addition the Fair Trade Commission recently announced lawsuits in 23 states against perpetrators of these scams. Unfortunately, as is generally true with consumer protection legislation, lawyers have for the most part been exempted from their provisions -- and law firm ads on radio, cable TV and the Internet exhorting people to hire them to handle their modification activities have mushroomed.

Although I have no proof, the timeline of these developments tells me that at least some of these attorneys are simply fronting for the same companies that were scamming homeowners all along. But even if the attorneys are not fronting for foreclosure rescue scams, they might as well be -- as I point out below.

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