Better Business Bureau warns homeowners about real estate fraud

Sometimes the victim is a retired senior strong-armed into signing some papers under the misconception that they are being granted a reverse mortgage. Or it’s a desperate homeowner who can’t make his monthly adjustable rate mortgage payment and transfers his deed to obtain some financial relief. Other times, it’s a family that has suffered huge medical expenses, is facing foreclosure and succumbs to a stranger’s offer to “buy” their property.

Better Business Bureaus in the U.S. and Canada recently issued an international alert to help combat the growing incidences of real estate fraud.

“It’s understandable that people panic when facing the loss of their home. Yet this is a situation that calls for clear-headed thinking. The BBB urges homeowners who are in financial distress to explore every alternative to keeping their home and avoid falling victim to ‘easy’ solutions,” said Brodie White, president of the BBB Serving Southeast Florida & the Caribbean.

The BBB’s first piece of advice is to talk to your mortgage lender. Do not ignore the delinquency letters. Contact your lender to explain your situation and ask about how to restructure your loan payment or to refinance or extend the term of your mortgage loan. If you are hesitant to talk to your lender yourself, engage the assistant of a trusted family member, financial adviser or lawyer.

If the lender is not responsive, try selling the house on your own to pay off the mortgage. Or, engage the services of a reputable real estate firm and licensed agent.

If you are unable to sell your home and decide to use a “home buying service” or do business with someone who offers to help you with your financial situation, thoroughly check out their expertise, reputation and marketplace record. Contact the Better Business Bureau, your state Attorney General and your state Real Estate Commission to find out if they have information on the prospective buyer.

The BBB warned that in some parts of the country, months of rising interest rates have led to a 33 percent increase in foreclosures. These foreclosures are a matter of public record, providing easy targets for scam artists.

“At-risk homeowners are bombarded with offers that arrive by mail, over the phone or are tacked to neighborhood telephone poles. Smooth-talking salespeople appear, eager to buy their property and promising to ‘save’ their home by paying off the amount that is overdue on the loan,” White said.

The homeowner is talked into moving out and deeding the property over to a third party. He or she is told they can choose to rent the property with the option to buy it back later. Unfortunately, the rent payment on the home is often higher than the homeowner can afford. Often times, the original homeowner cannot make the rent and is evicted from their home. Or, if the homeowner expresses a desire to buy back the property, the scam operator usually sets the price of the home higher than the homeowner can afford.

“The hapless homeowner can lose his equity and his home,” White said. “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. As a result, White explained, the homeowner faced eviction from the home and still owes for the original loan amount.

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At the end of the season, he was selected from the year’s four “grandstanders” to be the host. Owen currently resides in Ohio with his wife Kenya and their three children.

The BBB offers the following tips for homeowners whose mortgage is in arrears or who are facing foreclosure:

Read everything before you sign and get all “promises” in writing. Some schemers will offer to complete paperwork for you, or ask you to sign a stack of documents, supposedly to secure a new mortgage. Victims later learn that they signed a quit-claim deed to their home.

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. Foreclosure scam artists know exactly what neighborhoods to blanket with their offers.

If a foreclosure “rescuer” or mortgage “broker” instructs you not to contact your mortgage company or your attorney, be wary. Your mortgage company is the very business that you should be in touch with! Furthermore, why would you agree to cease contact with your attorney?

You should never sign a contract under pressure and never sign away ownership of your property. Remember, signing over your deed to someone else does not necessarily relieve you of your obligation on your loan. Ask a trusted family member, your attorney or a financial professional to review any paperwork you are asked to sign.

Before agreeing to any deal with a business or firm to buy your home, contact your BBB to request a report on the company and check with your state Attorney General and state Real Estate Commission.