Thursday, December 14, 2006

"Rebuilding Together" Gives Free Home Repairs To Cash-Poor Seniors

A growing number of seniors are getting help from nonprofit organizations that provide basic home improvements, maintenance and repair, according to this article at (Los Angeles Times - no longer available online).

Rebuilding Together is a national nonprofit organization that makes free repairs to seniors' homes.

Rebuilding Together's 12 Southern California branches repaired more than 424 houses last year. Donated materials were installed by teams of about 30 volunteers on each house.

The article describes the plight of several senior homeowners who, housing experts say, are like thousands of other older, low-income residents in Southern California who have significant equity in their homes, if not outright ownership, but have trouble maintaining them.

This sounds like a program that may help seniors avoid the home repair and mortgage scams (and other home equity theft scams) that may jeopardize their home equity because of a need to finance basic home repairs.

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

Click here for the organization map to find a Rebuilding Together Affiliate in your area.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

FBI Arrest Two For Allegedly Robbing Dozens Of Their Home Equity

In this November, 2005 story, two California men were charged with 10 counts of mail fraud by operating a foreclosure rescue scheme that targeted commercial lenders and Southern California homeowners.

This story, reported in a November 30, 2005 FBI Press Release (Los Angeles Division), indicated that the "homeowners were asked by the defendants to sign various documents including loan applications, trust and grant deeds, while being assured they would not lose title to their homes" and that "the defendants promised the deed would either be held in escrow or that the title would be returned to them once their credit was fixed", according to the indictment.

According to this July 20, 2006 U.S. Department of Justice Press Release, three additional defendants have been named in this matter. This scheme victimized more than 100 homeowners and allegedly caused losses of at least $12 million, according to Federal authorities.

FBI Snags Skimmers in "Rescue" Fraud; 168 Properties Involved

This 2003 story again shows the Federal Government in action in prosecuting another "equity skimming" / "foreclosure rescue" operation. Originally appearing in The Record (Northern New Jersey) and can be read here, this article reports on two New Jersey men who defrauded distressed North Jersey homeowners by promising to assume responsibility for their mortgages but failing to pay them.

The men persuaded troubled homeowners to sign over ownership of their homes to companies controlled by the two men. In exchange, the two men allegedly offered to pay home-related debts, prosecutors said. The former homeowners, who remained in their homes as tenants, then made monthly rental payments to the scammers' companies.

As in other "skimming" stories, the scammers simply pocketed the rental income received from the now former homeowners-turned-renters without making any payments on the existing mortgages on the homes, according to authorities, who cited that, at one point, the men controlled properties with a single-month rental value of $82,000.

FBI's "Operation Payback" Stings Alleged Equity Skimmers

This 2001 story is an example of the kind of "sting" operation law enforcement agencies conduct in going after foreclosure rescue operators. Originally appearing in the Dallas Morning News, and can be found here, the article reports on the Federal indictment of two Texas men who allegedly conned dozens of financially strapped homeowners who were in default on their mortgages and facing foreclosure into paying them an upfront fee, coupled with remitting their monthly mortgage payments to them. They, in exchange, were to negotiate with the banks and mortgage companies to reinstate the mortgages and remit to these financial institutions the monthly payments they were receiving from the homeowners.

Needless to say, the alleged scammers reportedly did nothing other than pocket the monthly payments received from the homeowners. Dozens of Dallas homeowners ended up on the street.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Low Cost Legal Services Available to Eligible Consumers

For those victims of consumer frauds (ie. foreclosure rescue scams, deed thefts, home improvement scams, home repair scams, etc.) who are looking for looking for low cost legal services, may be a good starting point in finding these services. helps low and moderate income people find free legal aid programs in their communities, and answers to questions about their legal rights.

The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) website is another source of civil legal assistance to those in need. LSC funds 138 legal aid programs with 700 offices around the nation to help poor Americans gain equal access to the judicial system. For a list of those legal services providers that are funded by LSC throughout the country click here, then pick "All States" & "All Counties" from the two dropdown menus, then click "Proceed" (those providers with website links can be found here).

To find an LSC-funded program by specific state, select your state here.

Examples of the type of legal aid help that is available to eligible consumers throughout the country

In Delaware, the Legal Services Corporation of Delaware handles a variety of consumer and housing type cases, including consumer fraud, foreclosures, and evictions.

In Illinois, the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago has been providing free legal aid to eligible individuals in a variety of cases, including (through their Home Ownership Preservation Project) representing clients facing the loss of their homes through foreclosure or tax sale, focusing on homeowners who have been victimized by predatory lending or by some other type of fraud or overreaching. Illiinois Legal Aid provides a search engine allowing an individual to locate low cost legal assistance throughout the state based on their zip code.

In Nevada, Clark County Legal Services (Las Vegas) handles many types of cases, including those involving consumer fraud scams and housing issues. A list of sources of low cost legal assistance to eligible individuals all over Nevada can be found at

In Ohio, Ohio Legal Services provides a search engine that individuals can use to find low cost legal help throughout the state by county, zip code or by keyword.

In Massachusetts, Massachusetts Legal Services also provides a search engine that can be used to find legal assistance throughout the state by county, city, or town. A list of sources of low cost legal assistance throughout Massachusetts can be found here.
In Florida, Legal Services Of Greater Miami, Inc. has served Miami-Dade & Monroe Counties for 40 years. Click these links for samples of the types of real estate consumer fraud cases they handle:
For individuals in any state, using and/or the Legal Services Corporation website should facillitate your search for low cost legal services throughout the country.

Eligibility requirements for these legal services providers are generally based on income. Be sure to ask what the eligibility requirements are in your area. These organizations generally handle only civil cases. Legal services in criminal cases to those who cannot afford an attorney are provided by your local county Public Defender's office.

For those seeking legal assistance but don't qualify for low cost Legal Aid, The National Association of Consumer Advocates provides a list of their members on their website who practice "consumer law" and may possibly be a source of legal assistance. Their membership list, by state, can be found here. Click the "View Details" button next to the specific attorney's name to find their contact information.

Keep in mind that, generally speaking, violations of Federal & State Consumer Protection Laws are written in a way so as to encourage private attorneys to take on Consumer Fraud cases on behalf of individuals (either rich, poor, or in between) on a "contingency fee basis", where he/she only gets paid if the case is won.

What that means, in the context of a consumer fraud case, is that if a private attorney takes your consumer fraud case and wins, the attorney can ask the judge to order the company you sued to pay your attorney his/her legal fees.

Bottom line is that, win or lose, even being represented by a private attorney experienced with consumer fraud matters on this basis should cost you little or nothing (whether you're rich, poor, or in between), even though you may not otherwise qualify for a local Legal Aid Attorney (who generally represents only those who are elderly, low-income, disabled or children).
In conclusion, keep in mind that not all attorneys handle all types of cases. You may have to contact several legal services providers to find one who handles the "predatory lending", "consumer fraud" and/or "real estate / foreclosure prevention" issues that typically exist in "foreclosure rescue", "home equity theft", and home improvement and repair scams.

Q & A About Home Equity Loan Fraud

This manual, published by Consumer Action (California) for community and consumer advocates working to educate senior, low income and minority home owners, warns about the dangers of home equity loan fraud. Topics covered include:
  1. home improvements,
  2. hiring a contractor,
  3. warning signs of fraud, and
  4. the possibility of losing your home through a home equity loan.

It specifically describes, in easy to read language, some of the ways homeowners have been defrauded by mortgage fraud scams and gives some homeowner tips when considering having home repairs & improvements done on your home. One important warning is that even if you do not borrow money for the repairs, most home repair contracts can result in a lien on your home.

While written by a California consumer advocacy group (presumably for California consumers), the information in this manual is generally valuable for consumers throughout the U.S.

Monday, December 11, 2006

FBI Investigate NY Attorney For Alleged $600,000+ Theft Of Home Sale Proceeds

(orig. post 12-11-06; revised 6-28-07)
A Queens, NY single mother, who successfully sold her home for $678,000, reportedly received over $600,000 in bad checks from the home buyer's attorney at the sale closing and now no longer owns the home and has no sale proceeds, according to this report at (The Journal News - Westchester, NY).

The alleged victim, who used her earnings from working two jobs (as a waitress & bokkeeper) to build up the equity in her home, was planning on starting a new life in Orlando, FL. Unfortunately, checks totaling over $300,000 paid to her directly, as well as a check for $286,000 paid to the mortgage company on her behalf to satisfy the outstanding mortgage on her Queens home bounced.

She now finds herself making monthly payments on her Orlando home as she struggles to continue paying the mortgage on the Queens home that she no longer owns.

The FBI and the United States Attorney's Office are investigating.

Reportedly, there is one other incident involving the disbursement of bad checks by this same attorney. A real estate agent involved in the other incident claimed that he received a $10,000 bad check, his client's $20,000 check was no good, and the title company involved in the real estate closing lost more than $100,000 through bad checks received from the same attorney.

Click here for the full story.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Elderly California Couple Allege $485,000 "Home Theft"

An elderly Tracy, California couple have allegedly been victimized by a "home equity theft" involving a "reverse mortgage" scam, according to this report in the Tracy Press.

Police have arrested and jailed the alleged scammer, who has been susbsequently released on $63,000 bail. The criminal charges involved are suspicion of:
  1. forgery,
  2. grand theft,
  3. financial elder abuse, and
  4. conspiracy.

Reportedly, the homeowners believed they were obtaining a reverse mortgage loan when, in fact, they were unwittingly signing over ownership of their home to the suspect. They found out that they were no longer the record owners of their home only after a neighbor made a comment to them about the couple "moving".

After recovering documents from the suspect's office pursuant to a search warrant, Tracy police believe that (1) there could be several more victims, (2) other individuals and businesses appear to have collaborated with the suspect, and (3) there may be more arrests made and charges filed.

The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office has joined the investigation.

For the rest of the story, click here.

Go here for other posts on reverse mortgage problems.

Go here , go here , and go here for other posts on elder financial abuse. zeta zebra