There is, unfortunately, an epidemic of residential real estate woes in virtually all areas of the county.
In fact, the Mortgages Bankers Association recently reported that an amazing 13 percent of residential mortgages are either in foreclosure or have at least one payment past due.
With all these real estate problems, you can be sure that ruthless thugs are working overtime to think of new scams and frauds to try to take advantage of these desperate homeowners and rough economic times.
The FBI now offers the following tips to try to help consumers from being ripped off:
In general: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Never sign a blank document or a document containing blanks. This leaves you vulnerable to fraud. Don’t sign anything you don’t understand.
Mortgage fraud: Get referrals for real estate and mortgage professionals. Check the licenses of the industry professionals with state, county, or city regulatory agencies. Be suspicious of outrageous promises of extraordinary profit in a short period of time. Be wary of strangers and unsolicited contacts, as well as high-pressure sales techniques. Look at written information to include recent comparable sales in the area and other documents such as tax assessments to verify the value of the property. Understand what you are signing and agreeing to. If you do not understand, re-read the documents or seek assistance from an attorney. Make sure the name on your application matches the name on your identification. Review the title history to determine if the property has been sold multiple times within a short period. It could mean that this property has been “flipped” and the value falsely inflated. Know and understand the terms of your mortgage. Check your information against the information in the loan documents to ensure they are accurate and complete. Check out the tips on the Mortgage Bankers Association Web site (www.homeloanlearningcenter.com) for additional advice on avoiding mortgage fraud.
Mortgage debt elimination schemes: Be aware of e-mails or Web-based advertisements that promote the elimination of debts such as mortgage loans and credit cards while requesting an up-front fee to prepare documents to satisfy the debt. The documents are typically entitled declaration of voidance, bond for discharge of debt, bill of exchange, due bill, redemption certificate, or other similar variations. These documents do not achieve what they claim. Remember, there is no magic cure-all to relieve you of debts you have incurred. Borrowers may end up paying thousands of dollars in fees without the elimination or reduction of any debt.
Foreclosure fraud schemes: Perpetrators mislead homeowners into believing they can save their homes in exchange for a transfer of the deed, usually in the form of a quit-claim deed, and up-front fees. The perpetrator profits from these schemes by re-mortgaging the property or pocketing fees paid by the homeowner without preventing the foreclosure. The victim suffers the loss of the property as well as the up-front fees. Be aware of offers to “save” homeowners who are at risk of defaulting on loans or whose houses are already in foreclosure. Seek a qualified credit counselor or an attorney to assist you.
Predatory lending schemes: Before purchasing a home, research information about the prices of homes in the neighborhood. Shop for a lender and compare costs. Beware of lenders who tell you that they are your only chance of getting a loan or owning your own home. Beware of “no money down” loans. This is a gimmick used to entice consumers to purchase property that they likely cannot afford or are not qualified to purchase. Beware of the mortgage professional who falsely alters information to qualify the consumer for the loan. Do not let anyone convince you to borrow more money than you can afford to repay. Do not let anyone persuade you into making a false statement such as overstating your income, the source of your down payment, or the nature and length of your employment. Read and carefully review all loan documents signed at closing or prior to closing for accuracy, completeness, and omissions. Be aware of cost or loan terms at closing that are not what you have agreed to. Be suspicious if the cost of a home improvement goes up if you accept the contractor’s financing.
For more information on this important topic, go to www.FBI.gov and be sure to check with your legal professional.
My final thoughts: As the FBI stated above, especially when it has to with your personal finances or home: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Unfortunately, in these tough economic times, there will be heartless criminals that will say and do virtually anything to try to separate you from your hard-earned money. The good news is that there are many genuine organizations that will try to help homeowners and others get through these rough times. A great place to look for these legitimate groups is to visit the federal government Web site www.makinghomeaffordable.gov or call 1-888-995-HOPE for additional information.
Copyright 2009 by Bruce Mandelblit
Bruce Mandelblit (www.CrimeZilla.com) is a nationally known security and safety journalist, as well as a recently retired, highly decorated reserve law enforcement officer. His e-mail address is CrimePrevention123@yahoo.com. This column is provided for general information purposes only. Please check with your local law enforcement agency and legal professional for information specific to you and your jurisdiction.
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