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Mortgage fraud: Bloomberg, nonprofit try to raise awareness

New York Mayor Bloomberg and NeighborWorks rolled out a ‘Loan Modification Scam Alert’ on Thursday. The goal: to prevent yet more homeowners from falling victim to mortgage fraud.

By Ron SchererStaff writer / February 18, 2010

Executive Director of Centro Campesino Farmworker Center Diane M. Cantor, left, informs people of NeighborWorks and the dangers of loan modification scams at the Florida Deparment of Financial Services in Miami, Thursday Oct. 29, 2009.

Jeffrey M. Boan/Ap/File

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They pose as experts, guaranteeing they can stop a home foreclosure. They may promise they can get you to the head of the line, leapfrogging over the thousands of other people trying to renegotiate their mortgage with the bank. But most of all, they want money upfront.

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These are mortgage scammers. And now, some national organizations, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are targeting them.

On Thursday in New York, one of the organizations that tries to steer homeowners to legitimate counselors teamed up with Mayor Michael Bloomberg to roll out a “Loan Modification Scam Alert.” The goal: to prevent yet more people from giving money to financial predators. The nonprofit organization, NeighborWorks, has already tried to warn distressed homeowners in California, Florida, Texas, Ohio, and Maryland. California leads the nation in complaints about mortgage fraud.

“It is a rising problem, with more and more people every day calling to say they have been scammed,” says Eileen Fitzgerald, chief operating officer of NeighborWorks. “Folks are desperate, and they are willing to try anything.”

Although there are no national numbers on how many people are being scammed – many people are too embarrassed to report they got taken – there are probably hundreds of thousands of victims, Ms. Fitzgerald says.

The problem will get worse this year, she anticipates, because so many adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) are coming up for renewal – especially in California, Florida, Arizona, and Nevada. Particularly problematic could be option ARMs, in which the homeowner decides how much money he or she can afford to pay each month.

“Your ability to pick the amount you can afford to pay is definitely becoming much harder, and the monthly payments on the vast majority of these mortgages are going up,” Fitzgerald says.

At the same time, the number of loan modifications made by the companies servicing mortgage payments remains relatively small but growing.

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