Signs of Housing Scams & Fraud
When the housing bubble burst in 2007, a slew of scam artists started targeting homeowners facing foreclosure. It quickly became difficult to sort the real help from false hopes. Consumers around the country were scammed out of thousands of dollars, and even their homes.
It’s important to know that legitimate help is widely available. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has approved nonprofit housing counseling agencies nationwide to provide foreclosure prevention services free of charge. Click here to find a HUD-approved agency in your state. You can also call the HOPE NOW national hotline for guidance 24/7: 888-95-HOPE.
To help you better determine legitimate assistance from rip-offs, we’ve compiled six signs of housing scams:
Fee-Based Foreclosure Prevention Counseling
You should never have to pay any upfront fees for foreclosure prevention counseling. Individuals who request fees typically pocket the cash and disappear.
Loan Modification Guarantees
A HUD-approved housing counselor will never guarantee a home loan modification. There are numerous factors that impact the likelihood of a modification, and the lender – not the housing assistance program – has the ultimate say. Legitimate housing counselors will guide you through the loan modification process, advocate on your behalf and explain your options.
E-mail and Phone Solicitations for Financial Information
Housing counselors do not initially solicit or request personal financial information over the phone or e-mail. While ongoing support and communication is available by phone or email, the initial documentation needed for the loan modification process should be collected and signed in person. In certain situations, especially when proximity to a housing counseling agency is a factor, you may send documentation via mail or fax.
Advice to Stop Making Mortgage Payments
If you are currently paying your mortgage, a legitimate housing counseling agency will not tell you stop making payments or transfer payments to the agency in lieu of the lender. If you are unable to meet your monthly mortgage payments, you should contact your lender and a HUD-approved housing counseling agency as soon as possible to determine your options.
Pressure to Sign Paperwork
A scammer may pressure you to rush through paperwork so you aren’t able to read it thoroughly. Many homeowners have fallen victim to “bait and switch” schemes in which a crook asks them to sign loan modification paperwork, yet it’s actually the deed to their house. Additionally, a legitimate counselor will never offer to fill out the paperwork for you.
Be suspicious of anyone asking you to engage in a rent-to-own program. Some scammers may ask you to surrender the title to your home and then stay in the home as a renter. They promise that they will allow you to buy back the home when you recover financially. These scammers typically have no intention of selling you the home, and instead evict you or require exorbitant rent payments.