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Watch Out for Foreclosure Scams

Beware of scams related to mortgage problems and foreclosure. Solutions that sound too simple or too good to be true usually are. If you're selling your home without professional guidance, beware of buyers who try to rush you through the process. Unfortunately, there are people who may try to take advantage of your financial difficulty. Be especially alert to the following:

Equity Skimming

In this type of scam, a "buyer" approaches you, offering to get you out of financial trouble by promising to pay off your mortgage or give you a sum of money when the property is sold. The "buyer" may suggest that you move out quickly and deed the property to him or her. The "buyer" then collects rent for a time, does not make any mortgage payments, and allows the lender to foreclose. Remember, signing over your deed to someone else does not necessarily relieve you of your obligation on your loan.

The Balloon Payment

You've fallen behind in your mortgage payments and may face foreclosure. Another lender offers to save you from foreclosure by refinancing your mortgage and lowering your monthly payments. Look carefully at the loan terms. The payments may be lower because the lender is offering a loan on which you repay only the interest each month. At the end of the loan term, the principal-that is, the entire amount that you borrowed-is due in one lump sum called a balloon payment. If you can't make the balloon payment or refinance, you face foreclosure and the loss of your home.

Signing Over Your Deed

If you are having trouble paying your mortgage and the lender has threatened to foreclose and take your home, you may feel desperate. Another "lender" may contact you with an offer to help you find new financing. Before he can help you, he asks you to deed your property to him, claiming that it's a temporary measure to prevent foreclosure. The promised refinancing that would let you save your home never comes through.

Once the lender has the deed to your property, he starts to treat it as his own. He may borrow against it (for his benefit, not yours) or even sell it to someone else. Because you don't own the home any more, you won't get any money when the property is sold. The lender will treat you as a tenant and your mortgage payments as rent. If your "rent" payments are late, you can be evicted from your home.

Phony Counseling Agencies

Some groups calling themselves "counseling agencies" may approach you and offer to perform certain services for a fee. These could well be services you could do for yourself for free, such as negotiating a new payment plan with your lender, or pursuing a pre-foreclosure sale.

Protect Yourself

Here are a few precautions that should help you avoid being "taken" by a mortgage or foreclosure scam:

  1. Don't sign any papers you don't fully understand. Make sure you get all "promises" in writing. Beware of any contract of sale of loan assumption where you are not formally released from liability for your mortgage debt. Check with a lawyer or your mortgage company before entering into any deal involving your home.
  2. If you're selling the house yourself to avoid foreclosure, check to see if there are any complaints against the prospective buyer. You can contact your state's Attorney General, the State Real Estate Commission, or the local District Attorney's Consumer Fraud Unit for this type of information.
Next Steps
Contact a qualified real estate attorney to help you avoid
or navigate the foreclosure process.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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