Scammers go after homeowners looking for help with mortgages

By Robb Hicken

– Idaho Statesman

Do you wince when you see the latest county assessment on your house arrive in the mail? Most people have seen that assessed value drop like a rock. Real estate market trends in Southwest Idaho have homeowners trying to work their way through difficult funding options.

More than 2.3 million homeowners across the nation have refinanced their mortgages in the past year. Long-term mortgage rates are at all-time lows, below 5 percent. The average rate on a 30-year fixed loan is now 4.09 percent. Roughly 22.5 percent of homeowners, or about 11 million, are “underwater” — they owe more than the home is worth, according to CoreLogic, a real estate data research firm.

Starting Dec. 1, qualified “underwater” homeowners have been able to find mortgage relief with a refinance under the Home Affordable Refinance Program, but BBB warns that banks and mortgage companies aren’t the only ones gearing up for the crush of applications.

HARP program changes, announced in October, allow homeowners to refinance at lower interest rates, even if their home is worth less than their mortgage. Homeowners who are current on their payments and whose loans are backed by either FannieMae or FreddieMac fall under HARP. Some lenders have begun accepting applications, although it may take a few weeks or even months before the rollout is complete. Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees the two major mortgage-lending programs, says a million-plus borrowers are expected to apply.

Whenever there are updates to government program that may be a bit confusing, scammers come out of the woodwork to take advantage. Check the mortgage company’s reputation at Already, there are hundreds of websites claiming to help homeowners through the HARP process, but many of them are rip-offs or scams.

Homeowners must look before signing on the line. Here are a few tips from BBB if your considering seeking help with your mortgage:

DEAL DIRECTLY with your lender first. Never make payments to anyone other than your lender.

DON’T PAY upfront fees to anyone who promises to provide counseling, take care of the paperwork for you or stop the foreclosure process.

BE WARY of anyone who tells you not to contact your lender, a lawyer or a credit counselor, or who asks for payment by cashier’s check or wire transfer.

NEVER SIGN over your deed to anyone, or allow yourself to be pressured into signing something you don’t understand.

BE ESPECIALLY CAREFUL of look-alike and sound-alike websites.

Homeowners who believe they are victims of an illegal mortgage modification scheme can contact the Idaho Department of Finance for assistance at (208) 332-8002 or toll-free at 1-888-346-3378., 947-2115

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