Foreclosure "rescue" scams are on the rise, according to the Better Business Bureau.
Homeowners struggling to make mortgage payments should “be wary of individuals and companies offering to ‘help’ you out of your difficult financial situation,” the agency says in a news release.
“These scams specifically target homeowners who are in financial distress. Scam operators may advertise over the internet and in local publications, plaster posters on telephone poles and at bus stops, stick flyers in people's front doors or contact people whose homes are listed in public foreclosure notices.”
Operators also may “direct their appeals to specific religious or ethnic groups,” the BBB said.
They may offer to "buy" the homeowner's property by paying off the amount that is overdue on the loan. The scammer convinces the homeowner to deed the property over to a third party. The homeowner is given the option of renting the property with the option to buy it back later, according to the BBB.
But the rent payment on the home is often higher than the homeowner can afford, and frequently, the original homeowner cannot make the rent payment and is evicted from their home. Or, if the homeowner wants to buy back the property, the scam operator usually sets the price of the home higher than the homeowner can afford, the BBB’s news release says.
“Hapless homeowners can lose their equity and their homes,” the release says. “Sometimes, the homeowner's troubles go even deeper. In many cases, the initial mortgage has not been paid off and the deed was never transferred, as promised. Not only is the homeowner faced with eviction from the home, but the scam victim may still owe for the original loan amount.”
In other versions of the scam, the homeowner receives a call, text or email with the promise of lowering the mortgage payment and avoiding foreclosure. The scammer sometimes asks for payment for their services in the form of personal checks or gift cards.
“A recent victim in Ohio reported to BBB Scam Tracker that she sent $3,000 in Walmart gift cards to a scammer asking for payment to help lower her interest rate,” the BBB says.
The agency advises consumers tempted by these or similar offers to recognize that they are “at real risk of losing money, equity, their home or all three.”
For those facing foreclosure, the BBB advises homeowners to talk to their lender and see if they can restructure their loan payment or refinance, or to try selling the house on your own to pay off the lender.
“Don't allow anyone to complete paperwork for you, or ask you to sign a stack of documents, supposedly to secure a new mortgage,” the BBB said.
Also, “beware the personal approach. Some less-than-ethical businesses will stuff a handwritten note in your front door or mailbox that implies that ‘help’ is available from someone you know or who has your interests in mind,” the BBB warns. “Foreclosure scam artists know exactly what neighborhoods to blanket with their offers.”
The BBB also warns never to pay with gift cards, as a reputable company will not ask for payment that way.
For foreclosure prevention help, homeowners can call 1-888-995-4673 or visit 995hope.org.
Compiled from a Better Business Bureau press release