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Con artists are out to get you and your home by promising to save you from foreclosure.  Here's how to avoid getting caught up in their empty promises. 

First and foremost, ignore the posters nailed to telephone poles, at bus stops, and in median strips that offer foreclosure help.  Ignore fliers that appear on your doorstep or in your mailbox, especially handwritten notes that suggest "help" is on the way from someone you know or who has your best interests in mind.  While facing foreclosure is difficult, don't be lured by these promises being offered that are too good to be true.

If you're facing foreclosure, talk to your lender about restructuring the payments or refinancing your loan.  Be wary of individuals who offer to pay your mortgage and take the house off your hands.  Here's how the scam works:

  1. The scam artist finds homeowners through public-foreclosure notices in newspapers or government offices. 
  2. The scam artist contacts you with a simple message: "Stop foreclosure with just one phone call" or "I'd like to buy your house"
  3. The first meetings offer you a "fresh start" and may include testimonials.
  4. You're instructed by the scam artist not to contact a lawyer or your mortgage lender, and to let the scammer handle the negotiations.
  5. The property is either taken by the scammer or sold to someone else at foreclosure. 
  6. You may become a "renter" of your own home, given the promise that you'll be able to buy it back later, but the scammer typically sets the price higher than you can afford.  If you fall short on your monthly "rent" payments, you'll be evicted.
  7. The underlying mortgage is often not paid off, so you not only are evicted but still owe on the original loan amount.   

How can you spot a con artist?  They use an array of tactics to reel in homeowners, but here are some common approaches: 

  • Rush you into making a decision
  • Work to gain your trust by saying "we've been in the same situation"
  • Promote themselves as religious and their help as faith-based 
  • Promise that they'll sell the house back to you at some point
  • Pressure you into signing a contract
  • Pressure you into signing away your ownership (called a "Quit Claim Deed")

If your home is in foreclosure, check to see if a letter from your lender is a "deficiency notice", which means that you are behind in payments and can still take care of the deficiency by paying it off.  If instead, you receive a letter that announces a sale date, this means that you are subject to a variety of fees beyond the amount you owe in back payments.  There is usually time before the sale to work out a new repayment schedule with your lender (called a loss-mitigation plan) or to even sell the house. 

If you find yourself facing foreclosure, seek out free housing counseling.  Legitimate services are certified by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and can be located at www.hud.gov