A weary consumer from midcoast Maine wrote to us recently in hopes that others could benefit from her experience. She had sought some relief from her mortgage payment in the form of what is becoming a nasty twist on advance fee schemes.
Many homeowners have had their loans renegotiated with satisfactory results. Others, like our consumer, had been swayed by a company against which the Federal Trade Commission recently filed a complaint.
The company, calling itself Advocates For Consumer Affairs, had promised a number of clients that it could lower their interest rates and cut monthly payments on the order of 50-80 percent. It could do this, it claimed, using a tool called a forensic mortgage loan audit.
The FTC cites claims on the company’s website (now defunct) which claimed “up to 95 percent of mortgages may be legally unenforceable due to defects like lost documents, improper notices, appraisal and/or predatory lending.” The forensic audit could find these defects and use them as leverage to broker a better deal with the holder of the mortgage.
All the client had to do was pay the company several hundred dollars (in our consumer’s case, $1,800) up front. It was only later that the hard truth became clear.
The FTC reports that it’s found no evidence that forensic loan audits help with a loan modification or any other form of foreclosure relief. That’s the case even if the audit is undertaken by a trained, licensed, legitimate auditor, mortgage professional or lawyer.
Some federal laws make it possible to sue your lender based on errors in loan documents. Even if you sue and win, though, your lender doesn’t have to adjust the terms of your loan to make it more affordable.
If you cancel your loan, you’ll have to return the borrowed money; that makes losing your home a real possibility.
People who are in default or are facing foreclosure are likely targets for foreclosure rescue scams. The midcoast consumer had entered into a business relationship with Advocates just weeks before the FTC hit the firm with, first, a temporary restraining order, then a preliminary injunction.
In its complaint, the FTC charged the firm:
• Did not secure interest rates or payment reductions that it promised.
• Either didn’t contact lenders or, if it did, failed to follow up.
• Failed to return phone or email inquiries seeking updates on clients’ cases.
• Didn’t give refunds to customers requesting them.
• Put consumers at risk of losing their homes and having their credit ratings damaged.
The case is pending, and the midcoast consumer, along with many others in similar situations, is out a lot of money. We would urge people with mortgage woes to visit our blog and under the “education” tab find “foreclosure prevention kit,” a link to the Pine Tree Legal Assistance website and some excellent advice on how to really deal with mortgage problems.
You also may call 888-995-HOPE any time for free personalized advice from people in housing counseling agencies certified by HUD.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, visit necontact.wordpress.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.