The lead article on one of the social media pages featured a grandmother who was being evicted from her home of some 35 years. She was small in stature, so the house was custom built to her height. She had been struggling, but faithfully making her mortgage payments. So what happened?

In a nutshell, she started sending her monthly payments to a company that reportedly would reduce the rate and help her under a legitimate federal program, e.g. Mortgage Assistance Relief Program (MARS). They would make her payments and she was assured that everything would be done. To her surprise, she opened her door and found a notice of eviction from the mortgage company, the company she had sent the payments to disappeared, and she was out on the street!

A website, www.get.com, offers the following tips on how to spot a scam operation. First is the old “upfront fee” disguised as either a cost to a counselor who will have your monthly payments reduced (with the help of their legal department) or to have an auditor review your mortgage to see if there is any foreclosure law that was not followed. And, by the way, you are cautioned to not contact another credit counselor or even your lender (highly illegal advice).

How about surrendering the title to your house and then staying on as a renter? They promise you will be able to negotiate a better loan rate and buy your house back. Guess what? They now control your life and can raise your monthly payments at will until you can’t afford them and “kapow” you are out! Or even better, you make the payments to them, which they keep, and you are evicted when foreclosure occurs.

One scam that I was not familiar with revolves around your equity. The scammer promises a buyer if you sign over the deed and agree to vacate. When the house is sold you are to get a share of the profit. Unfortunately, what happens is that the new owner rents the house out, doesn’t make mortgage payments and the lender forecloses. It gets much worse! You are still responsible for the unpaid mortgage even though you transferred the deed.

Remember the caution to “read the fine print?” If you are like me when I am presented with a mass of papers, I listen to what they tell me and sign on the dotted line without reading everything because I trust them. Here they get you to sign a document that transfers your home’s title to them in exchange for the counseling you will receive. Slick!

Under the MARS rule: you don’t have to pay until you get the desired results and until you get written verification of acceptance and of all costs, fees and future payments. The mortgage relief companies must tell you they are not associated with any government agency or their services have been approved by them or the lender.

Remember: Think, prepare, and execute crime prevention designs. Don’t become a crime victim.

Walt Candelari is a Dickinson Police Officer. He is writing a series of columns on creating a safe environment.

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