DEAR MR. MYERS: I lost my job several months ago and haven't been able to find a new one. I used my savings to make my mortgage payments until January, but then the money ran out and the bank sent me a default notice in February. Last week, I received a phone call from a "fore-closure-rescue" company that says it can negotiate with my bank to redo my loan and prevent foreclo-sure if I immediately send the company $1,500 for its services. I don't have that much cash, but I could probably borrow the money from my friends or relatives. Are these types of companies legitimate?ANSWER: Some foreclosure-rescue companies are legit, but many others are not. It's sad, but the rising number of foreclosures across the nation has created a new group of scammers who aim to trick financially troubled homeowners out of what little money-or home equity - the homeowners have left.
Banks are usually required to file default and foreclosure notices with a local court or the county clerk's office. Such filings quickly become part of the "public record" that everyone can view, including con artists who are searching for new prey.
Federal and state prosecutors say that the typical scam begins with a phone call or letter from a rescue company that offers to help borrowers avoid foreclosure by negotiating with their lender for a fee that often ranges from $1,000 to $3,000. Sometimes, the firm even offers to lend them money to become current on their mortgage. But the promised help never materializes, and the home is fore-closed anyway.
Even legitimate foreclosure-rescue services can't do anything for you that you cannot do for yourself. Call your lender immediately and explain why you are behind on your payments. The lender might be willing to temporarily reduce or even suspend your monthly mortgage obligations until you regain your financial footing.
If your problems have been exacerbated because you have a sub prime loan whose rate has recently soared, you might be eligible for the nationwide rate-freeze program that was recently approved by President Bush, or you might qualify for lower payments by refinancing through one of the Federal Housing Administration's revamped loan programs.
Also, contact the federally approved Hope Now Alliance.