Foreclosure help scams are on the rise
A foreclosure sign in front of a house for sale in Stockton, Calif.
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Bob Moon: Try Googling the word "foreclosure" these days and you'll be presented with a display of ads promising "FORECLOSURE HELP NOW" or offering to "STOP FORECLOSURE FAST" or "SAVE YOUR HOME TODAY." The wave of foreclosures across the country has given rise to a whole new kind of business: the foreclosure rescue business. But as Marketplace's Alisa Roth reports, it's not always what it seems.
Alisa Roth: Joy owns her house in Queens, N.Y., but Fridays are the only time she actually sleeps there. She works three jobs as a home health worker and nurses aide to try to make her mortgage payments.
Joy: To tell you the truth, I really want to God to help me to have the house back, that's all. Because I get attached to it, you know.
She's owned the house for 30 years. But got sick a couple of years ago.
Joy: I failed to pay the mortgage.
The mortgage servicer wouldn't negotiate. She was terrified she'd lose her house. A friend told her about a company called Homesavers. The owner promised to save her house. All she had to do, he said, was sign over the deed for a year. It's a classic scam.
Jessica Attie: What they don't tell the person is that they're transferring the deed.
Jessica Attie is an attorney with South Brooklyn Legal Services.
Attie: The person to whom they're transferring it is taking out a much bigger mortgage on their house, and cashing out equity. And then there's no way the original homeowner can get their home back.
That's exactly what happened to Joy. Homesavers took out a new, much bigger mortgage. Joy's monthly payments doubled to more than $4,000 a month. Attie says she sees cases like this one all the time. The scammers use all kinds of tricks, like knocking on peoples' doors, visiting churches, bombarding victims with fliers promising to save their homes.
New York has joined a handful of other states in passing new laws to make it harder to get away with these kinds of scams. But law or not, once a homeowner's signed over the deed -- or worse -- it can be very hard to get the house back. Attie says the real trick is not to get tricked at all.
Attie: When you're in foreclosure, it doesn't necessarily mean you have no options. Some of these people if they had come to our office, we could've financed into a lower-interest loan.
But Joy says in a desperate moment, that's advice easier given than followed.
Joy: When you in trouble, no matter what people tell you, they gonna help you, you just see the help, you don't see the consequences. You just see, oh they're gonna help me that's fine. No, that's all. That's the way he got me.
She has a lawyer now. And is hoping to get her house back, before the new owner manages to flip it to somebody else.
In New York, I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.