Wednesday, May 27, 2015

3 Mortgage Scams And How To Beat Them

Brought to you by Destinations Credit Union 

The phrase "home security" is pretty widely used and has a variety of contexts. It can mean locking doors and windows when leaving the house, setting up an alarm system, participating in a neighborhood watch, or setting up automatic lights for vacations. These are all steps homeowners take to keep the contents of their homes safe.

When it comes to the home itself, though, folks can be a lot less particular. While homeowner's insurance can protect against natural disasters, there's a new threat to the cornerstone of the American dream. Scam artists are targeting desperate homeowners, trying to steal their money, personal information or even the home.

These scams come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and each one needs a detailed response. Before you do anything with your mortgage, check to make sure your "once-in-a-lifetime" offer isn't on this list. 

1.) Up-front cost refinance 

The scam: You get a phone call or a letter from someone who wants to refinance your mortgage. The rates they're offering are crazy low. They can cut your monthly payment by hundreds of dollars or help you pay off your mortgage in record time. All you have to do is pay a small percentage of those savings up front.

Of course, the company offering the mortgage is fake. You might get bills from them for the new amount, but paying them won't affect your mortgage. Meanwhile, the institution that does hold your mortgage still expects you to make your regular payments.

How to beat it: It's illegal to charge up-front fees for mortgage refinancing. Some institutions may try to waffle around this by calling them "document processing" fees or using some other jargon. Whatever they call it, it's against the law and is a sure sign this "lender" is really just looking for a quick payday while not delivering anything in return.

Also remember that, while rates can fluctuate over time and from institution to institution, the fluctuation is limited. If someone is offering a rate that is several percent lower than anyone else in town, be highly skeptical. Check with your Better Business Bureau to see if the company exists and/or if complaints have been filed against it. 

2.) Hope foreclosure relief 

The scam: This savage scam targets homeowners who are facing foreclosure. Whether because of job loss, medical expenses, or other hardships, foreclosures affect 100,000 households each month. People in desperate situations try anything they can to dig themselves out. That's when they get a phone call from someone representing Hope Services who can connect them with government assistance to stop their foreclosure. All they have to do is make three "trial payments" into a mortgage escrow account.

Hope Services collects the money and encourages borrowers to stop paying their mortgage. They'll actively encourage homeowners not to talk to lenders or lawyers. They'll take care of everything. As it turns out, Hope Services provides neither hope nor services. Homeowners are stuck facing foreclosure hearings without any assistance whatsoever.

How to beat it: Anyone who tells you not to get a lawyer or talk to a lender does not have your best interests at heart. If you miss several mortgage payments due to extenuating life circumstances, call your lender. Most institutions would always rather you pay something and keep you in your home than have to go through the process of foreclosure. Keeping lines of communication open is critical to getting back on the right track.

Also, watch out for high-pressure sales tactics. Anyone who wants you to make a mortgage decision on the spot is trying to deceive you. Mortgages are long-term arrangements and they should be considered carefully. A "money-back guarantee" is also a big red flag. Getting your money back will do you little good if you lose your house in the process. 

3.) The fine print deed sign 

The Scam: Scammers use a variety of up-front pitches. Some might offer to lower your rates or lower your mortgage payments. Others might try to rescue you from foreclosure. Still others might offer a home equity line of credit with alarmingly good terms. They may also offer to take over the deed to your house and then use their superior credit rating to secure a lower rate, while allowing you to remain in the home as a renter. Whatever the pitch, there are a ton of forms to sign. All of them are written in indecipherable legalese.

Somewhere amid these forms, perhaps buried in the back, is a form signing the deed for your house over to the scammer. Once they have the deed, they can rent the home to someone else or sell it outright while forcing you to vacate. Worst of all, you're still on the hook for the balance of the mortgage, since the loan is tied to you and not to the home.

How to beat it: Scrutinize every document you sign relating to your mortgage or home. Have someone with experience in these matters look over documents if you're not confident in your ability to detect these scams. Spending 20 minutes with a real estate lawyer is expensive, but not as expensive as losing your home.

There is never a legitimate reason to sign the deed of your house over to someone else unless you're selling the house. While rent-to-buy schemes aren't illegal, they very seldom end well for the renter. It won't even get you out of legal or financial trouble.

Also, be wary of anyone who claims to guarantee a halt of foreclosure. No one can make such a guarantee, and legitimate businesses would  lose everything in lawsuits. The same is true with money-back promises. That's good protection when buying a blender. It's not something anyone can promise for your house. 

Destinations Credit Union offers free financial counseling, including certified housing counselors to our members.  If you have questions, ask!

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