Vulnerable to scammers

Published 8:27 pm Friday, April 8, 2011

It seems almost too perverse to be real. Homeowners who already are facing the threat of losing their homes to foreclosure now have the added worry of wondering whether the various people who offer to help them avoid the shattering experience are legitimate or whether they’re just looking to take what little money the stressed homeowners still have.

A recent series of investigations by Richmond-based Home Opportunities Made Equal found that 24 different companies offering their services to Virginians at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure either were involved in some type of scam or gave their clients questionable advice — advice that in some instances could have actually increased the likelihood of foreclosure.

Some clients were told to stop making payments or to cease contact with their mortgage companies, with the suggestion that doing so would result in the homeowners getting a modified loan. Some companies promised to find mistakes in the homeowners’ mortgage documents that would void the loans. Still others charged hefty upfront fees and then responded with minimal work.

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According to the folks at HOME, there were 292 complaints around the state last year about loan modification scammers, including six right here in Suffolk. Each of those complaints represents a person or a family that had been facing the nightmare of losing their most important asset. Each of those complaints represents someone who chose to take advantage of a homeowner at the worst possible time.

The lesson for the rest of us is a simple one, but one that we all need reinforced from time to time: If something seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is. When we find ourselves in desperate situations, it’s easy to forget that old axiom, and the people who would take advantage of us understand just how vulnerable we are in those times.

Don’t let them take advantage of you.