Foreclosure crisis profiteers: Knowing the enemy

Our previous two posts dealt with the origins of the Foreclosure Rescue Scam and provided some characteristics to help homeowners recognize a scam from a safe distance. Even armed with good information, it’s sometimes hard to differentiate the good guys from the bad.

The scammer is well rehearsed at sounding smart, compassionate and sincere. At Keep Your Home California, we investigate these people fairly often and we seldom find conclusive evidence of their misdeeds. In this post, we will provide you with some practical steps that you can follow to review and identify these con artists. Warning: None of these techniques are foolproof and it’s very difficult to identify a scammer with any level of certainty.

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It is our hope that by doing a little research, you might uncover enough “red flags” to steer you away from potential danger before you lose any money. Here are a few simple steps that you can take to perform a high-level review:

  • Review correspondence from the potential Scammer. It’s likely that most of your contact with a scammer will be by email and telephone. The scammer typically doesn’t want to meet face-to-face. It’s unlikely they have an office and they might be located nowhere near you. Look at their email address. Is there a company or organization designation? Very often, scammers use public email services such as Hotmail, AOL or Gmail because they don’t work for a legitimate organization. A public email address is a red flag.

 

  • Ask about and verify licenses. Sometimes the scammer claims to be an attorney or claims to have a real estate license. They may tell you not to contact your lender, lawyer or credit counselor. Ask for their license or bar number and then verify the license with the State Bar of California or the California Bureau of Real Estate. Even without a number, you can search by name.
    • For an Attorney Search, go to http://members.calbar.ca.gov/fal/membersearch/quicksearch. Contact the attorney using the phone number listed in their profile, not the number given to you by the Scammer, to verify that the person listed is actually the person who contacted you.
    • To verify a Real Estate License, go to http://www2.dre.ca.gov/PublicASP/pplinfo.asp. Independently locate a phone number, using the internet or other genuine phone directories, and contact the person to verify that the person listed is actually the person who contacted you.

 

  • Evaluate their website … if they have one. The absence of a website is a major red flag. However, most scammers have a website. And, because they often have to change names to elude being caught, their websites are usually very sparse. A few pages without much real content and almost never the names, or photographs, of any employees, managers or executives. Their “Contact Us” page will usually be limited to an online contact form. No physical address, no phone numbers, no email addresses.

 

  • Check their physical address. If you do happen to have what appears to be a physical address, put it into Google Maps and see what appears. Go to the “Street View” if it is available. You might see an office building or a private residence but, more often than not, you will see a shopping center and one of the tenants in that shopping center will be a UPS Store, or similar mailbox service. Red flag!

 

  • Perform an Internet search. Use an effective search engine and look for the name of the company, of any individuals you can identify, and also search phone numbers that you have been given. If you poke around enough, you just might find useful information such as previous complaints.

 

  • Requests for fees. Any request for fees or money before any services are performed, payments in cash, money order or “wire transfers” are all warning signs.

Please remember that you might be dealing with criminals and we aren’t advocating that you become a private investigator or vigilante. Do not, in the course of your review, misrepresent yourself or violate anyone’s rights or privacy. If your research indicates that you are likely dealing with a Scammer, do not confront them, simply disengage.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

 


Foreclosure crisis profiteers (Part 2): Seeing through the camouflage

In our previous post, we discussed the rise of the “Foreclosure Rescue Scam” in California. We fittingly described the scammers as predators and, like most predators, the scammer looks for the most vulnerable and helpless of prey.

In this case, they are seeking homeowners who, facing the frightening possibility of foreclosure, are desperately grasping for any possibility of regaining their financial footing and saving their home. The scammer hopes that fatigue and fear will cause the homeowner to drop their guard, to cling to false promises, and to surrender both their hope and what little money they may be able to scrape together.

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The challenge is that the scammer is camouflaged and really hard to spot. He looks legitimate, sounds confident and says all of the right things. But, upon closer examination, the scammer can be identified for what he really is — a fraud.

Look for these warning signs of a scam:

  • Promises of guaranteed results. The scammer will say that he has done this hundreds of times, that he has relationships with loan servicers and that he knows exactly how to work the system in order to stop every foreclosure and save every home. No legitimate foreclosure prevention program will make these types of unconditional claims.

 

  • Instructions that isolate the homeowner. The scammer doesn’t want a homeowner talking to their loan servicer, to a certified housing counselor, to an attorney or to a real program such as Keep Your Home California. Their scam depends upon their ability to make a homeowner believe that their only hope begins and ends with the Scammer.

 

  • Advice that includes not making, or diverting, mortgage payments. The scammer wants money. It is to his advantage to convince a homeowner that they should not send money to their loan servicer. While not a common practice, the scammer will sometimes convince a homeowner that, in addition to fees, they should also send their mortgage payments to the scammer to be held in trust until their modification is complete.

 

  • Asking for upfront fees or a payment plan. The scammer will insist that the homeowner immediately begin paying his fees and he will try to get as much as possible in the first payment. Fees can range from several hundred to, more often, several thousands of dollars. The “sweet spot” in California seems to be fees of about $3,000, but we’ve seen people taken for well over $10,000. The scammer is an opportunist and he will take as much as he can get and he is willing to set-up a payment plan if that means draining even more of the homeowner’s scarce resources.

 

  • Any scheme that involves transferring title to a home. Some of the more elaborate scams involve transferring all, or part, of a homeowner’s interest in their property. It seems illogical to think that someone would transfer title to their home in order to save it, but it happens often. The scammer will describe a complicated scheme that may involve the homeowner leasing their own home and earning their title back over time. Once title has transferred, these scams are very difficult, and expensive, to undo and likely will require the help of an attorney.

If you believe that you have been the victim of a foreclosure rescue scam, the following Government agencies offer the opportunity to file a complaint:

If you suspect fraud or misrepresentation related to Keep Your Home California, please contact our Compliance Unit at complianceunit@kyhca.org.

In our next installment, we will discuss some simple steps you can take to verify the legitimacy of anyone who approaches you offering help with foreclosure prevention.

 


Celebrating five years of helping homeowners

Keep Your Home California turns five years old in February.

And like any 5-year-old, the free mortgage assistance program has changed, a lot.

When Keep Your Home California debuted, the state’s once-booming housing market had collapsed. Foreclosures dominated many communities, from Crescent City to Chula Vista. Home values plummeted statewide, in some cases by more than 50%.

Homeowners across the state were in need of financial help – and even an inkling of hope that they could remain in their homes. Fortunately, Keep Your Home California was – and still is – able to provide both, with up to $100,000 in mortgage payment assistance.

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From the start, the four Keep Your Home California first mortgage programs were designed to help homeowners address hardships from different aspects of the foreclosure crisis. If you lost your job, the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program could make your payments for you while you looked for work. If you had severe negative equity, the Principal Reduction Program could reduce the outstanding principal balance you owed. And so on…

Officials with the state-managed program are constantly looking at ways to improve Keep Your Home California. As a result, there have been several changes along the way.

All of the changes were based on data and feedback program officials have collected from applicants over the years. If certain things weren’t working, they were changed or discontinued. If other things were working, they were expanded or remained in place.

Some of the most popular and often-used programs have been expanded over time.

One of the biggest changes was to triple the amount of time homeowners can receive help from the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program. Now, out-of-work homeowners can receive as much as $3,000 per month for up to 18 months or $54,000. When the program launched it was capped at six months and $18,000, but program officials soon realized that wasn’t enough due to the staggering amount of Californians who were “long-term unemployed.” Like all of the program changes, the decision to expand was made to better address the challenges homeowners were facing.

The changes to the Principal Reduction Program have been even more significant. Originally Keep Your Home California required a dollar-for-dollar match from mortgage servicers as part of the Principal Reduction Program. For example, Keep Your Home California and the mortgage servicer could each offer a maximum of $50,000 under the program, providing a total of $100,000 for homeowners in principal reduction.

But few servicers enrolled in the Principal Reduction Program, meaning homeowners were unable to get the assistance. So, Keep Your Home California changed the program, and now provides the entire amount—up to $100,000. More servicers signed up for the program, which has allowed many more homeowners to be approved for principal reductions.

Within the last year, officials also announced an effort to assist homeowners with unaffordable mortgages through the Principal Reduction Program. Up until that change, the program was only available to homeowners who had negative equity. This change gave yet another boost to the amount of homeowners who could qualify. In fact, Keep Your Home California approved a record number of homeowners through the Principal Reduction Program in 2015. In 2011, the first year of the program, only 166 homeowners were approved. About 2,800 homeowners were approved in 2015, 17 times the amount of homeowners in 2011.

Another significant program change occurred when Keep Your Home California increased the $25,000 limit to $54,000 for the Mortgage Reinstatement Assistance Program, allowing homeowners to catch-up on their past-due mortgage payments. The data analysis showed that a significant number of homeowners had arrearages exceeding the previous program cap of $25,000 and many of those arrearages increased as the homeowners attempted to work on a loan modification with their servicers. In light of this information, the cap was increased. As has always been the case with this program, homeowners must be able to make their mortgage payments going forward.

In early 2015, Keep Your Home California also introduced a new program to help senior homeowners with reverse mortgages. The Reverse Mortgage Assistance Pilot Program offers as much as $25,000 to help cash-strapped seniors dealing with past-due property-related expenses, such as property taxes and/or insurance.

In addition to program changes, the team at Keep Your Home California also has made changes to increase the availability of assistance, improve customer service, and connect with more homeowners (this blog is just one effort we’ve introduced since the program started).

Keep Your Home California launched with just 10 mortgage servicers – the companies that collect the monthly payments – enrolled in the program. Today, almost 250 servicers participate in the program, from big banks such as Bank of America and Wells Fargo to pint-sized credit unions. With more servicers participating, more homeowners can be considered for assistance.

There have been other changes over time, including a new interactive website featuring a 12-question “Eligibility Calculator” homeowners can take to better understand for which programs they may qualify. The team at Keep Your Home California has been working to keep the programs relevant for the changing landscape when it comes to foreclosure prevention in the state. As the data changes, so too does Keep Your Home California.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that Keep Your Home California’s far-reaching goal and never-ending focus has always been on helping homeowners. As long as there is funding available, the program will help low to moderate income homeowners who have experienced financial hardships prevent foreclosures.

Homeowners seeking more information about Keep Your Home California or any of its five programs should call 888-954-KEEP (5337) between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays or visit www.KeepYourHomeCalifornia.org. Representatives can answer questions and take applications in virtually any language through a translation service and there is never a fee for any Keep Your Home California services. A Spanish-language version of the website is also available at www.ConservaTuCasaCalifornia.org.

 

 

 


Unaffordable monthly mortgage payment? Maybe Keep Your Home California can help

Affordable mortgage payments are a big-time concern for many homeowners in California, especially for families whose income has declined in recent years.

Keep Your Home California – the free mortgage assistance program — recently changed its Principal Reduction Program in order to help more low- and moderate-income homeowners struggling with their mortgage payments. Homeowners who have an unaffordable first mortgage payment may qualify for up to $100,000 in assistance.

The state-run program’s goal is to help homeowners attain an affordable mortgage payment, before they fall behind on their payments.

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Keep Your Home California will assist homeowners who have suffered a financial hardship – such as a loss of income, divorce, death or extraordinary medical bills — and help solve their mortgage troubles.

The change allows homeowners with a hardship and unaffordable monthly mortgage payments — greater than 38% of the homeowner’s household gross income — to qualify for assistance to reduce their principal balance. The principal reductions will often lead to savings of hundreds of dollars each month on homeowners’ mortgage payments.

It’s a big change for the program, which previously required homeowners to owe more on their mortgage than the value of their home, often referred to as negative equity or an underwater mortgage. Now, homeowners with unaffordable payments can apply and be approved for as much as $100,000 in assistance from Keep Your Home California, even if they have positive equity in their home.

“Despite an improving economy and job market, there are still many homeowners who are struggling every month …” California Housing Finance Agency Executive Director Tia Boatman Patterson said in a recent news release about the changes to the Principal Reduction Program. “Our goal is to help California homeowners prevent avoidable foreclosures.”

CalHFA oversees Keep Your Home California, a federally funded program.

Homeowners approved for the Principal Reduction Program must be able to make their monthly mortgage payments going forward.

Homeowners must also meet program eligibility requirements, including having suffered a financial hardship and county-by-county income requirements (a complete income limit list is available at http://keepyourhomecalifornia.org/income-limits/). Severe negative equity – a loan-to-value ratio of 120% or more – is considered a financial hardship under the Principal Reduction Program.

If you would like more information or want to apply for Keep Your Home California, call 888-954-KEEP (5337) or visit www.KeepYourHomeCalifornia.org (Spanish speakers should visit http://conservatucasacalifornia.org/). The counseling center is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Translators are available, so counseling sessions can be conducted in virtually any language.


Employment Development Department, Keep Your Home California team up to connect with more than 1 million out-of-work Californians about Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program

California’s economy continues to improve, with more than 1.53 million jobs created since the recovery started in early 2010 – and the lowest unemployment rate in more than six years.

Despite the solid job growth, many Californians are still struggling to find work. In fact, there are still 1.32 million Californians looking for work – the equivalent of everyone in San Diego.

And many of those folks are homeowners.

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So, the Employment Development Department and Keep Your Home California developed a joint effort to educate out-of-work homeowners about the free mortgage-assistance program. Keep Your Home California’s Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program offers as much as $3,000 per month for 18 months to homeowners eligible for unemployment benefits.

EDD delivered nearly 1.5 million flyers about Keep Your Home California to jobless residents in the state in 2014. The campaign has been a big help in educating and encouraging homeowners to apply for the state-managed program.

The Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program augments jobless benefits from the EDD. So, homeowners can collect an unemployment check and have their mortgage payments covered – up to $3,000 per month – for up to 18 months.

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The Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program allows out-of-work homeowners to concentrate on their job search, rather than worry about their monthly mortgage payment. The program has already helped more than 34,000 homeowners across the state.

To qualify, homeowners must meet county-by-county income requirements, and their mortgage servicer must participate in Keep Your Home California. All 200-plus mortgage servicers enrolled in Keep Your Home California participate in the Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Chase and several other large servicers. To check the complete list of mortgage servicers enrolled in Keep Your Home California, visit: http://keepyourhomecalifornia.org/participating-servicers/.

If you would like more information or want to apply for Keep Your Home California, call 888-954-KEEP (5337) or visit www.KeepYourHomeCalifornia.org (Spanish speakers should visit http://conservatucasacalifornia.org/). The counseling center is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Translators are available, so counseling sessions can be conducted in virtually any language.


Keep Your Home California establishes new program to help seniors with reverse mortgages

Hard-hit seniors behind on their reverse mortgage-related payments, including property taxes and homeowner’s insurance, could get a much-needed helping hand from Keep Your Home California.

The free mortgage-assistance program has announced a new pilot program to help low- and moderate-income senior homeowners 62 years and older who are at risk of losing their home to foreclosure after getting behind on their reverse mortgage-related payments.

The Reverse Mortgage Assistance Pilot Program, announced in mid-February, will help homeowners with Federal Housing Administration (FHA)-insured reverse mortgages to qualify for as much as $25,000 in assistance. Homeowners must have an FHA Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) in order to be eligible for the program.

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Along with the financial assistance, homeowners will receive budget counseling and may receive up to 12 months of additional assistance for future property expenses to ensure homeowners get back on their feet.

Senior homeowners must meet the program’s county-by-county income limits and have endured a financial hardship – a cut in pay, a job loss, a divorce, death in the family, or extraordinary medical bills – in order to qualify for help.

Homeowners must also live in the home with the reverse mortgage and be able to make the property expenses going forward.

Thousands of senior homeowners have used the FHA HECM product, and many have experienced a change in their financial situation beyond their control. Many of these senior homeowners with reverse mortgages are in the Central Valley, the Chico/Redding region of Northern California and the High Desert of Southern California.

Homeowners seeking assistance should contact their reverse mortgage servicer to begin the application process for the Reverse Mortgage Assistance Pilot Program. Currently, six servicers are participating in the pilot program – Champion, Financial Freedom, James B. Nutter, Reverse Mortgage Solutions (RMS), SunWest and Wells Fargo.

These six companies handle a large majority of the FHA HECM reverse mortgages in California.

Keep Your Home California has set aside $25 million for the Reverse Mortgage Assistance Pilot Program, enough funds to help about 1,400 homeowners.

If you would like more information about the program, please call Keep Your Home California at 888-954-KEEP (5337) or visit www.KeepYourHomeCalifornia.org (those more comfortable speaking Spanish should visit http://conservatucasacalifornia.org/ ). The counseling center is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. Translators are available, so counseling sessions can be conducted in virtually any language.

Image courtesy of Renjith Krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.


Transition Assistance Program offers $5,000 to families looking for a fresh start

Keep Your Home California officials are always looking to improve the free mortgage-assistance program for hard-hit homeowners. The program has undergone many changes since starting in February 2011. This is the final of four posts that detail many of these program changes – and how they help homeowners.

From assisting out-of work homeowners to those struggling with significantly underwater mortgages, Keep Your Home California focuses on helping Californians prevent avoidable foreclosures, oftentimes helping them stay in their homes in the process.

But the mortgage-assistance program also helps homeowners who, through no fault of their own, are faced with the hard-to-grasp reality of losing their house.

ID-10052201The Transition Assistance Program offers as much as $5,000 to help low- to moderate-income homeowners move to another form of housing — enough money for covering moving costs, a security deposit and in some cases a few months of rent. Basically, the dollars give families a fresh start in a new home.

The Transition Assistance Program was established to be used in conjunction with a mortgage servicer-approved short sale or deed-in-lieu of foreclosure to help homeowners make the move into a new housing situation as easy as possible, whether it’s an apartment, rental house or moving in with relatives.

Of course, there are some requirements, just like the other three programs in Keep Your Home California.

Most notably, the income limit – 120% of the county’s area median income.,. Before you decide that you earn too much, the income limits range from about $69,000 in several rural counties to more than $120,000 in San Francisco and San Mateo counties. You can check the complete county-by-county income limits here (URL to http://keepyourhomecalifornia.org/income-limits/).

Your mortgage servicer – the lender that collects the monthly mortgage payments – must also participate in the Transition Assistance Program. Almost 130 mortgage servicers are enrolled in the program, six times as many as two years ago. Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Bank of the West, Chase Home Finance, and CitiMortgage are among the big-name banks that participate in the Transition Assistance Program. Check the complete list of mortgage servicers enrolled in the program. (URL to http://keepyourhomecalifornia.org/participating-servicers/)

Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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