Saturday, November 25, 2006

Michigan Man Charged with Bilking Senior's Home Equity

In an article appearing in The Detroit News, a Michigan loan officer was charged with scamming an 84 year old woman out of $42,000 in a mortgage scheme. The victim reportedly believed she was obtaining a reverse mortgage (which is paid back only when the homeowner dies or moves out of her home) against her home for $61,000. The loan officer allegedly obtained a $103,000 loan and secretly kept $42,000 for himself. She only learned about it when she began receiving bills which, including interest, totaled $131,000.

The loan officer is also suspected of scamming dozens of other elderly homeowners at a loss of more than $1 million in Wayne and Oakland counties, according to authorities.

The complete article is available from The Detroit News online archives for $2.95.

Go here for other posts on reverse mortgage problems. zebra

Maryland Attorney General to Review Criminal Complaint Against State Legislator For "Foreclosure Rescue" Activities

A criminal complaint regarding the "foreclosure rescue" activities engaged in by a Maryland state legislator has been referred to the Maryland Attorney General's Office for review, according to this report originally published in the Baltimore Sun on October 26.

This post is a follow-up to my November 24 post about this matter.

DREAMS FORECLOSED: The Rampant Theft of Americans’ Homes Through Equity-stripping Foreclosure 'Rescue' Scams

What arguably is the definitive work on the national epidemic that is often referred to as "home equity theft", "equity stripping", foreclosure/mortgage "rescue" scams, and other descriptive names is the June, 2005 report titled:

Written by Steve Tripoli and Elizabeth Renuart of the National Consumer Law Center ("NCLC"), this is an exhaustive, sixty eight page report that is based on their experiences, numerous interviews conducted by the NCLC plus a review of cases and reports from consumer attorneys, law enforcement officials and the news media in seventeen states plus the District of Columbia.

The report is divivided into several sections that are captioned as follows:

  1. INTRODUCTION: THE BLIND SPOT 100,000 HOMES WIDE, which gives an overview of the report, including pictures of actual road signs that are commonly used by "rescue" operators,
  2. PART 1: STEALING WHATEVER IS NAILED DOWN, which describes what apparently are the three predominant types of "rescue" scams, why homeowners fall for these scams, and gives a taste of what these scams mean to real people by telling the story of two victims in the hard hit region of Southern California,
  3. PART 2: THE HIDING-IN-PLAIN-SIGHT PANDEMIC, which goes into some detail and includes stories of similar scams from seventeen states and the District of Columbia, for the NCLC's stated purposes of (a) "want(ing) to definitively prove that a common rebuttal to news of consumer scams, that 'it’s just a few bad apples doing it,' is categorically beyond rational claim when it comes to foreclosure "rescue" scams", (b) "want(ing) the public and the news media to be aware of the many different tactics these scammers employ to cash in other people's home equity", and (c) "want(ing) to show, through others' experience, the difficulties of fighting these scams ..., in order to bolster the case for reform that (is made) later in the report",
  4. PART 3. DO-IT-YOURSELF EQUITY STRIPPING: THE INFORMAL INDUSTRY TEACHING "RESCUE" TACTICS, which discusses the "educational industry" that teaches foreclosure rescue and is commonly advertised on late-night television. The report quickly and fairly points out that not all of the businesses in this educational industry are scams. Interesting references are made to well-known TV real estate gurus "Millionaire Maker Ron LeGrand" and Carleton Sheets (and in a later section of the report, Robert Allen),
  5. PART 4. FIGHTING BACK: WHAT REGULATORS, THE LAW, ENFORCEMENT, AND CONSUMERS CAN DO, which (a) addresses whether homeowners can fight back effectively, (b) admonishes the states to "beef up (their) laws or witness a mounting loss of home ownership", (c) discusses consumer "do's and don'ts, (d) offers, as a model, one way of responding to this epidemic by decribing an outreach and support program involving the Clergy Against Senior Exploitation (CASE) Partnership and the Denver District Attorney's Office that is funded by the United States Department of Justice,
  6. APPENDIX A: EXHIBITS, which includes a number of samples of the type of solicitations used by "foreclosure rescue" operators,
  7. APPENDIX B: OVERVIEW OF EXISTING STATE LAWS, which describes (a) the types of activities covered, (b) the scope of the laws, (c) notice and cancellation rights (d) substantive protections.

For anyone interested in quickly getting up to speed on the "foreclosure rescue" / "home equity theft" /"deed theft" epidemic that has infected the entire country, I vigorously urge you to obtain and read this report.

Click here for DREAMS FORECLOSED: The Rampant Theft of Americans’ Homes Through Equity-stripping Foreclosure "Rescue" Scams

Friday, November 24, 2006

Rhode Island Attorney General Settles Suit With 'Rescue' Company; Judge Orders Return of Homes, Operations Shut Down

According to a report summary appearing on the Community Choice web site, the Rhode Island Attorney General has reached a settlement in a civil lawsuit brought against a 'foreclosure assistance' company in connection with a home acquisition operation whereby it acquired homes from financially distressed homeowners under the guise of foreclosure rescue 'buy back' program.

Superior Court Judge Daniel Procaccini granted the attorney general's request for a permanent injunction prohibiting the operator or its affiliates from transferring or selling any of the 16 properties already enrolled in the buyback program. It also requires a return of ownership of two of the homes back to the original owners, and prevents the company or its affiliates from using the 'buy back' program to acquire any more properties.

According to a Rhode Island Attorney General news release issued prior to the settlement, the cases had two characteristics common with a 'foreclosure rescue' scam:

  1. sparse documentation provided to consumers, and
  2. unknowing conveyance of ownersip by the victim to the operator.

This story was originally reported by The Providence Journal.

Click here for the Community Choice summary

Click here for Attorney General's News Release

Click here for one of The Providence Journal's articles

Federal Charges Against Eight; 100+ S. Cal. Homeowners Victimized in $12 Million "Rescue" Scam reports that eight people have been charged with mail fraud and aggravated identity theft involving a 'foreclosure rescue' operation that targeted over 100 homeowners. According to the report,

  1. the victims were identified by using databases of current foreclosure actions,
  2. approached with offers of short term loans and refinancing with a co-signer with good credit,
  3. mortgages were fraudulently placed on the victim's homes which subsequently went into default, resulting in a stripping of the victims' home equity.

The scam took place in several areas of Southern California.

Click here for the whole story.

Go here for updated posts with links to media reports & FBI press releases relating to the initial charges. Seung Ok

Maryland State Legislator Sued For Alleged "Foreclosure Rescue" Scam; Police Investigation Ongoing

The Capital Online (Annapolis, MD) reports that state legislator Tony McConkeyhas been sued by a local woman for allegedly taking her ownership in her home under the guise of providing foreclosure rescue services.

The local police are conducting their own investigation in this matter, unrelated to the alleged victim's civil lawsuit, according to the local State Attorney's office. Both the state attorney and the local police have withheld any comment.

The legislator, who reportedly is both a disbarred attorney and was a real estate broker until the revocation of his broker's license, has been sued in the past by another homeowner where allegations of the same nature were made, according to this story.

Click here for the details.

Click here for an article first appearing on October 25, 2006 in the Baltimore Sun about the police investigation of the Maryland state legislator.

Click here for article: State delegate accused in lawsuit of defrauding homeowner that appeared in

Go here for other posts on Tony McConkey.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Pennsylvania (Montgomery County) Prosecutors Charge Paving Contractor With Defrauding the Elderly and Handicapped

The Pottstown (Pa.) Mercury reports (11-21-06) that father & son each face charges of theft by deception, deceptive or fraudulent business practices, receiving stolen property, and other charges in connection with eight incidents involving driveway repaving jobs that were either substandard or not finished.
They are alleged to have gone around offering "one-day only specials" on repaving driveways.
The homeowners were reportedly between the ages of and 53 and 86 and one victim was confined to a wheelchair. According to the investigating detective, one victim claimed that the presence of the contractor and his crew made him uneasy and unable to argue the contract and felt physically intimidated. When the victim told the contractor he needed to go to the bank to get the money, the contractor drove the man to the bank, where the victim then withdrew the cash from a home equity line of credit.
Authorities have seized a company dump truck that officials say they’ll move to forfeit to the county if the contractors are convicted of the charges.

Texas Retiree Falls Victim to "Foreclosure Rescue" Scam

Amie Streater, of the (Dallas-Fort Worth) Star-Telegram reports on a retiree who was apparently victimized by a "foreclosure rescue" scam. The article's description of what happened contains hallmarks of the typical "home equity theft":
  1. "Foreclosure rescue" company rep shows up at victim's home for an in-person solicitation,
  2. Victim fills out "company paperwork",
  3. Victim claims to never have received copies of the signed paperwork,
  4. Home was "sold" to a new owner, with victim continuing to live in the home,
  5. Victim receives no cash on the "sale",
  6. Victim agrees to make payments to mortgage company on behalf of new owner,
  7. Victim is left with the understanding that she can buy back her home after one year.

Click here for full story.

For those of you in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the Star -Telegram's Watchdog would like to hear from other homeowners who have been approached by people offering to help them avoid foreclosure. Send your stories to or call Amie Streater at 817-390-7456.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Indiana Prosecutors Charge Financial Advisor With Theft

The (Fort Wayne, In.) Journal Gazette reportsthat Whitley County prosecutors have filed seven charges of theft against a financial advisor for allegedly scamming several elderly people.

In one case, the alleged scam artist convinced one of his clients, an 83 year old, legally blind widow, to borrow money against her fully paid off home and invest it with him. She obtained a $38,000 "reverse mortgage" (which requires no payments until she dies) and gave it to him with the understanding that he would invest it so that it would yield monthly annuity payments of approximately $600 a month.

She received some payments, but they ultimately stopped after eight months.

The widow eventually learned that the money was never invested. According to court testimony, her check was deposited into the alleged scam artist's checking account. He later put the bulk of that money, about $30,000, into his girlfriend's checking account.

The long and short of this story is that a vulnerable widow was robbed of about about $33,000 of her home equity ($38,000 less the eight monthly payments she actually received) and is now stuck with a $38,000 mortgage on her home that, because of the accruing interest, is eating away at her remaining home equity on a daily basis.

Click here for the full story (no longer available online).

Go here for other posts on reverse mortgage problems. zebra

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

What Are Government Authorities (or anyone else) Doing to Stop Home Equity Theft ?

Home Equity Theft, by all the reports I've seen, is a horrific scam being perpetrated on vulnerable American homeowners that has reached epidemic proportions throughout the United States. Victims tend to be those who are financially distressed, senior citizens, and the working class poor and middle class. Often times, these victims are experiencing other problems in their life as well (job loss, uninsured family illness, death of a breadwinner, divorce, and other unfortuante life changing events). People who are victimized by a "home equity thief" are often reluctant to tell anyone because of feelings of fear, embarrassment, and humiliation.

Fortunately, in many areas in the country, the horror stories have reached the ears of government and non-profit legal services organizations and efforts have begun around the country to do something about this terrible situation. Although regrettably, availability of financial resources appears to be an issue in going after these scam artists, the efforts to stop this activity on the part of "home equity thieves" are being made.

The following links are to stories from around the United States that report on these efforts.

Links From Around The Country


California Attorney General Bill Lockyer Files Criminal Charges Against Alleged "House Thieves"

Mortgage Fraud Blog reports that California Attorney General Bill Lockyer's investigation uncovered about 100 instances in which a husband and wife attempted to perpetrate some form of "home stealing" and which included one victim, a 78-year-old homeowner, who told investigators that he was living temporarily in a nursing home when he was victimized. Bail was set at $1.4 million.


Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan Sues Two "Foreclosure Rescue" Companies; Announces Proposed Legislation To Prevent Home Equity Fraud

In one case, home owners paid fees to Internet "foreclosure consultants" ranging from $350 to $900. It is alleged that these "consultants" failed to engage in the promised negotiations and did nothing more than the home owners could easily do themselves.

The second case involved several victims in separate incidents. Victims in at least two of the incidents signed incomplete and blank paperwork, including a Power of Attorney Form, and ultimately received only a fraction of their home equity.

In addition it was announced that legislation (Illinois Mortgage Rescue Fraud Prevention Act) was proposed (and has subsequently been passed) in the Illinois state legislature by Madigan and two Illinois lawmakers which will help ensure that Illinois home owners do not pay money for non-existent services or see their hard-earned home equity in their homes disappear into thin air.


Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan Strikes Again

The alleged "home equity thieves" in this case are being sued in a civil lawsuit for misleading homeowners to believe they could save their homes when in fact the homeowners were selling their homes to “foreclosure rescue” company employees who stripped out the substantial equity and left homeowners on the verge of eviction.


Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich Announces Shutdown of Major "Mortgage Rescue" Scam

The alleged "home equity thieves" in this case targeted homeowners vulnerable to foreclosure; victims unwittingly signed over ownership to dishonest lender. In connection with the filing of this civil lawsuit, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) issued an emergency suspension of the loan originator registration of one participant, and revoked the license of Mutual Trust Funding Corporation. IDFPR shut down seven title insurance agencies being charged with complicity in the “mortgage rescue” operation.

To view a copy of the Emergency Suspension of Loan Originator Registration please click here.

To view the Order Revoking License please click here.


Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter Obtains Court Order Directing Refund of Fees Paid to "Foreclosure Consultant"

In this case, a court ordered a "foreclosure consultant" to refund fees of about $3,000 to three Indiana home owners and more than $82,000 in costs and penalties to the State of Indiana for failing to provide either a promised "work-out plan" or new financing.

Unfortunately in this case, all three home owners eventually lost their homes in foreclosure sales.


Massachusettes Attorney General Tom Reilly Announces Investigation of "Foreclosure Rescue" Companies

In this report, several "foreclosure consultants" and "foreclosure rescue" businesses are being investigated for allegedly targeting homeowners by offering to "rescue" them from foreclosures, but instead trick them into deeding over their property. In many instances, homeowners have lost their homes and the equity they had built.

Attorney General Reilly has called on all Massachusettes homeowners who think they have been victims of a "foreclosure rescue" scam to immediately contact his office by calling the AG's Consumer Hotline at (617) 727-8400.


Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly Files Suit Against Three "Foreclosure Rescue" and Mortgage Fraud Operations

Mortgage Fraud Blog reports that emergency orders have been obtained by Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly in each of three civil lawsuits, in which judges have ordered an immediate stop of illegal practices, and ordered the alleged "deed thieves" not to evict any homeowners or sell any of their homes.


Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon Obtains Consent Judgment and Permanent Injunction against "Foreclosure Consultants"

In this case, Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon alleged in a civil lawsuit that the "foreclosure consultants" offered their services to a St. Joseph, Missouri resident who was in danger of losing his home to foreclosure. The "foreclosure consultants" approved him for a $20,000 loan, and then had him sign a general warranty deed on the house. The "consultants" claimed the deed was a second mortgage that was needed to secure the original loan, but instead it was designed to turn the man's home over to the defendants.

For an earlier report on this case, see:

Nixon files lawsuit to shut down fraudulent St. Joseph foreclosure consultant


Homeowners Victimized By Foreclosure Rescue Scam

In this article by Dan Olson of Minnesota Public Radio, he reports:

In one matter, the Minnesota Attorney General's Office filed a civil lawsuit against an alleged "home equity thief" who has been reported as initiating 95 evictions and related actions involving reportedly questionable real estate deals.

One of the alleged victims took back the house that she says she was tricked into selling to the alleged "home equity thief". The next day, the alleged "home equity thief" called St. Paul, Minnesota police and had the home owner removed and arrested. She was charged with trespass and released from jail the same day;

In another unrelated matter, the Colorado Attorney General's Office filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of more than 100 homeowners. Ultimately, 70 of them won their homes back. There was a cash settlement of $1.1 million. Customers had been bilked out of an estimated $15 million.


North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper Shuts Down Alleged Foreclosure Fraudsters

A Wake County, North Carolina Superior Court judge has ordered a "foreclosure assistance" company and its owner and president to cease operating while Attorney General Cooper’s civil lawsuit against them goes forward.

In this case, the "foreclosure assistance" company is accused of taking upfront fees from North Carolina home owners and then did little or nothing to help the home owners stave off foreclosure actions.


Pennsylvania Prosecutor's Office Obtains Guilty Plea Against Home Thief

In one outrageous case, Real Estate reports that a San Francisco man pleaded guilty to identity theft in Bucks County, Pa. This identity thief used information he obtained on 73-year-old man of Tinicum Township, Pa. to reroute the victim's mail to California. The thief then attempted to take ownership of the house in order to sell it, and even tried to convince a real-estate agent that the real homeowner was a squatter trespassing, court papers said. The scam artist pleaded guilty to identify theft and a host of other felonies and was sentenced to probation for 36 months and required to pay $775 in restitution, according to the Bucks County Court clerk's office.


Detroit Man Gets 3 Years in Foreclosure Scam

Mortgage Fraud Blog reports that a Detroit, Michigan man was sentenced to 37 months imprisonment for mail fraud involving a scheme to cheat financially distressed Detroit homeowners whose homes were in foreclosure.

The man charged the homeowners a $1,000 fee in cash for his services and then eventually used bankruptcy petition filings to temporarily stop pending foreclosure actions.

The cases were eventually dismissed and the foreclosure proceedings were allowed to continue.
The U.S. Trustees Office has identified more than 20 such fraudulent petitions filed with the Federal Bankruptcy Court in Detroit, and several more were filed in a California Federal Bankruptcy Court after this "foreclosure fraudster" had been enjoined from filing any further cases in Detroit.


Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott Files Emergency Action Halting Bogus Foreclosure Rescue Operation

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed a legal action to stop a Houston woman from unlawfully exploiting distressed homeowners, some of them elderly, who face imminent foreclosure and eviction. A Harris County District Judge granted a temporary restraining order and asset freeze.

The Attorney General's News Release cites the case of an alleged "deed thief" who fraudulently takes possession of the home of an 85-year-old Houston man under the guise of helping the homeowner prevent foreclosure. The man allegedly was led to believe he was only allowing the "home equity thief" to consult with his mortgage company, but in fact the transaction allowed the alleged thief to take ownership of his home.

Click here for the Attorney General's Original Petition

Click here for the Court's Temporary Restraining Order/Asset Freeze


California Judge Decides to Proceed to Trial in Matter of Accused "Deed Thieves"

A November 21, 2006 Modesto Bee article reports that three accused foreclosure scam artists face multiple felony counts of fraud and grand theft, and in a preliminary hearing that ended after five weeks of testimony. Stanislaus County Judge Hurl Johnson has decided that there is enough evidence to warrant a trial.

In addition, the article indicates that prosecutors still plan to file additional counts against the three people accused of swindling homeowners, with additional victims to be named, a spokesman said.

A Modesto Bee investigation revealed that the accused defendants had acquired at least 142 properties from people being threatened with foreclosure in four California counties.

The victims include an 86-year-old woman with dementia who has since died, a 66-year-old schizophrenic, a woman with brain lesions and several other disabled people.

Another victim said his parents, who had helped him buy his home, warned him not to get involved with the accused "deed thieves", and wrote him out of their will when he didn't listen. He said he should have cleared more than $100,000 in equity. Instead, he said, he lived out of his car after the men evicted him the day before Thanksgiving in 2003.

One victim accepted $10,000 for her home, thinking it represented a portion of the estimated $157,000 in equity her home had built over several years. She later realized she had signed over the deed, she said.

The woman asked not to be named for fear that family members would be angry. She had inherited the home from her mother.

Click Here for an earlier November 17, 2006 article on this story

Click Here for an earlier July, 2005 article on this story


Texas Woman Accused of "Deed Theft" Pleads No Contest

A September 26, 2006 article by Elizabeth Allen in the San Antonio Express-News reports that a Texas woman pleaded no contest to two counts of securing execution of documents by deception in a "deed theft" scheme where she took over ownership of the home of an octogenarian.

At 81, the victim met the scam artist in 2002, and during that year she began draining his personal funds, according to court documents. After he fell and his health declined, she placed him in a nursing home.

"She put a note on his file that he was to have no visitors, especially family members," said Assistant District Attorney Joanne Woodruff.

The staff at the nursing home would spend their own money to buy the victim clothes, shoes and personal items because he had become so tattered, she said.

According to the follow up story, the "deed thief" ultimately was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay more than $380,000 in restitution.

Click Here for the follow up story.

Follow up Story also available here

Monday, November 20, 2006

What is "Home Equity Theft" ?

The phrase "Home Equity Theft" is used in several different contexts that encompass a variety of unscrupulous practices that jeopardizes the equity in a property owner's home. Some practices result in a significant loss in the amount of equity that has "built up' in the family home without actually losing the ownership of the home; other practices result in the actual loss of one's home, by a transfer of the ownership to a scam artist. (Some of the practices can also be characterized as examples of "Predatory Lending").
Some "home equity thieves" will approach you when you when you are behind in your house payments. Others will approach you when your home needs expensive repairs. Yet others will lure you in by promising to reduce your debt through debt consolidation or refinancing.
I will try to touch on the various schemes to give the reader of this blog some taste for what is going on so that you can protect yourself from the home equity thieves from turning your home equity into their money.
Before I begin describing the various forms of Home Equity Theft, let me list some of the "standard vocabulary" of words & phrases that you may encounter in reading about Home Equity Theft:
Deed theft, title conversion, equity stripping, equity skimming, foreclosure assistance, foreclosure rescue, mortgage rescue, loan flipping, debt consolidation, home improvement fraud.

Deed Theft / Title Conversion / Signing Over Your Deed

Whether you call it "Deed Theft", "Title Conversion", or simply "signing over your deed", this is considered by many as one of the most common and most disasterous scams that can be committed against an unsuspecting homeowner and can result in the complete loss of a person's home.

If you are having trouble paying your mortgage, missed at least one payment, and the lender has threatened to foreclose and take your home, you may feel desperate. You may be approached by someone referring to him/herself as a so-called "foreclosure assistance counselor" (or some other similar sounding name) offering to provide "foreclosure rescue" or "mortgage rescue" services. This "counselor" may offer to lend you money or he may offer to help you get a new loan to help you catch up on the house payments that you haven't made in order to save your home.

Sometimes, this so-called "counselor" may tell you that before he can help you, he wants you to transfer ownership of your property to him, claiming that it's a temporary measure to prevent foreclosure. Then, he will break all the promises he made to you and never transfer back the ownership of your home to you.

Other times, he may simply give you papers to sign, telling you that they are "standard loan papers" for a loan he may have promised to give you, when, in fact, the papers are actually "ownership papers." He then gets you to "sign the papers", without ever telling you that the papers you signed actually transferred ownership of your home to him.

In a variation of this scheme, this "counselor" will ask you to "sell" your house to him. He won't give you much, if any, cash up front, but will agree to catch up on your house payments with the bank. In exchange, he will let you rent the house back from him with the promise that you can buy the house back from in at some point in the future. However, either by charging you a very high rent, by setting a very high "buy back" price, or by otherwise making it difficult for you to follow through with your end of the arrangement, he puts you in a position where you can't complete the "buy back" and, if you stop paying the rent, he will evict you, since now, you are only a tenant and no longer the owner of your home.

You have now lost your home and the scam artist is free to do with the home as he wishes.

The "Home Improvement" Scam

The Home Improvement Loan scam is a common form of Home Equity Theft. The mechanics involved are quite similar to the "Deed Theft" or "Title Conversion" scam discussed in an earlier post.

You may be approached by a home improvement contractor or a "salesman" working for a contractor (similar to the way a "foreclosure assistance counselor" looking to steal the ownership of your home might approach you) who offers to install a new roof, remodel your kitchen or bathrooms, replace your air conditioner / boiler, or perform other home repairs at a price that sounds reasonable. (He may contact you by phone, direct mail, or he may personally show up to your home and knock on your front door.)

You tell him you're interested, but can't afford it. He tells you it's no problem-he can arrange financing through a lender he knows. You finally agree to have the work done on your home.

At some point, you are asked to sign a lot of papers. It may be before the work starts, or it could be after the works starts (and after the contractor has already made a big mess in your home). The papers may be blank or the salesman or contractor may rush you to sign before you have time to read what you've been given. If the work has already started, the contractor may threaten to leave the work on your home unfinished (and leave you with a big mess in your home) if you don't sign. You sign the papers.

Only later do you realize that the papers you signed are a mortgage / home equity loan. The salesman may have grossly overcharged you for the home improvement work. The interest rate, points and fees seem very high. To make matters worse, the work on your home isn't done right, hasn't been completed, or possibly no work at all has been done. The contractor, who may have been paid by the lender, has little interest in completing the work to your satisfaction and you're left paying off the mortgage / home equity loan for years to come.

Related Links Involving Home Improvement Scams & Unscrupulous Contractors:

  1. Home Equity Theft Through Contractors Still a Problem
  2. Legal Eagles on Lookout for Fraudulent Contractors
  3. States Try to Crack Down on Unlicensed Contractors
  4. 17 Charged In Home Improvement Fraud In Nassau County
  5. Pa. Attorney General Home Improvement Consumer Protection Q & A Sheet
  6. Contractor Stiffs Subs; Subs File Liens on Customers' Homes

revised 11-23-06

Equity Stripping

Let's say you want or need to borrow some money. You may not have much income coming in each month. You have built up equity in your home. There are mortgage lenders that are looking to steal the equity you have built up in your home.

These predatory lenders may tell you that you could get a loan, even though you know your income is just not enough to keep up with the monthly payments. The lender encourages you to "pad" your income on your application form to help get the loan approved.

The lender doesn't care if you can't keep up with the monthly payments. As soon as you don't, the lender will foreclose-taking your home and stripping you of the equity you have spent years building.

If you take out a loan but don't have enough income to make the monthly payments, you are being set up. You probably will lose your home.

Loan Flipping

The description of equity stripping in an earlier post describes a situation where the home equity was "stripped" by a predatory lender by utilizing only one mortgage loan.

An extension of this technique involves the use of a "series of mortgage loans", obtained over a relatively short period of time, and is referred to as "loan flipping."

It may be that your original loan may have only "stripped" you of a small part of your home equity and that your paymnets are currently affordable.

A short time after you obtained your original loan, your lender might contact you and offer to refinance your loan, promising to make the terms more affordable. The lender may use the availability of extra cash as bait, claiming it's time the equity in your home started "working" for you. You agree to refinance your loan.

After you've made a few payments on the loan, the lender calls to offer you a bigger loan for, say, a vacation. If you accept the offer, the lender refinances your original loan and then lends you additional money. In this practice, the lender charges you high points and fees each time you refinance, and may increase your interest rate as well. Your total debt has increased and your period of indebtedness may have been extended as well. If the loan has a prepayment penalty, you will have to pay that penalty each time you take out a new loan.

Long story short? With each refinancing, you've increased your debt and probably are paying a very high price for some extra cash. After a while, if you get in over your head and can't pay, you could lose your home, or, at a minimum, you possibly find yourself spending every cent of your income in a desperate struggle to hold onto your home.

Hidden Loan Terms

Hidden Loan Terms is also a method by which "home equity thieves" can steal your home equity. While it is possible for a "home equity thief" to put all kinds of unconscionable terms in a written agreement that he gets you to sign, two examples of hidden loan terms that can be used by the thief, as described by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission on their website, and provided below for your information, are the "Balloon Payment" and "Credit Insurance Packing".

The Balloon Payment

You've fallen behind in your mortgage payments and may face foreclosure. Another lender offers to save you from foreclosure by refinancing your mortgage and lowering your monthly payments. Look carefully at the loan terms. The payments may be lower because the lender is offering a loan on which you repay only the interest each month. At the end of the loan term, the principal-that is, the entire amount that you borrowed-is due in one lump sum called a balloon payment. If you can't make the balloon payment or refinance, you face foreclosure and the loss of your home.

Credit Insurance Packing

You've just agreed to a mortgage on terms you think you can afford. At closing, the lender gives you papers to sign that include charges for credit insurance or other "benefits" that you did not ask for and do not want. The lender hopes you don't notice this, and that you just sign the loan papers where you are asked to sign. The lender doesn't explain exactly how much extra money this will cost you each month on your loan. If you do notice, you're afraid that if you ask questions or object, you might not get the loan. The lender may tell you that this insurance comes with the loan, making you think that it comes at no additional cost. Or, if you object, the lender may even tell you that if you want the loan without the insurance, the loan papers will have to be rewritten, that it could take several days, and that the manager may reconsider the loan altogether. If you agree to buy the insurance, you really are paying extra for the loan by buying a product you may not want or need.

Mortgage Servicing Abuses

Unfair practices committed by a mortgage lender (and its mortgage servicing agent, who is simply the company who collects the mortgage on behalf of the mortgage lender) against home owners are referred to as Mortgage Servicing Abuses. While some experts may not consider these practices a form of Home Equity Theft, these practices do rob a home owner of some of their money and will pay this money under the threat that they will lose their home if they don't pay. In my view, therefore, it is appropriate to include these practices as Home Equity Theft practices.

An example of this type of Home Equity Theft, as described by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission on their website, is provided below for your information.

After you get a mortgage, you receive a letter from your lender saying that your monthly payments will be higher than you expected. The lender says that your payments include escrow for taxes and insurance even though you arranged to pay those items yourself with the lender's okay.

Later, a message from the lender says you are being charged late fees. But you know your payments were on time.

Or, you may receive a message saying that you failed to maintain required property insurance and the lender is buying more costly insurance at your expense.

Other charges that you don't understand-like legal fees-are added to the amount you owe, increasing your monthly payments or the amount you owe at the end of the loan term.

The lender doesn't provide you with an accurate or complete account of these charges. You ask for a payoff statement to refinance with another lender and receive a statement that's inaccurate or incomplete.

The lender's actions make it almost impossible to determine how much you've paid or how much you owe. You may pay more than you owe.

Go here , go here , and go here for posts on questionable mortgage servicing practices. questionable mortgage servicing practices tactics zebra

Sources (and Links) of Information for today's posts include:

1) Federal Trade Commission:

Home Equity Scams: Borrowers Beware!

2) Atlanta Legal Aid Society:

Schemes to Cheat the Unwary Homeowner: Equity Theft and Title Conversion
by: Karen Brown and Bill Brennan