Avoiding scams as a homeowner

June 30, 2011 2:18:27 PM PDT
For many, the fear of foreclosure has desperate homeowners doing whatever they can to try to save their homes. And that despartation makes it easier for frustrated homeowners to become victims of a scam.

From the kitchen to the backyard to the office, Gloria Guttierez spends most of her time at home. It is a home she happily purchased six years ago.

"I never felt in a place like I felt in this house," she said.

But one year later, the housing market took a turn for the worse and so did her life. After trying to contact the bank for almost two years, Gloria turned to a loan modification rescue company to help save her home.

"They gave us the requirements," she said. "Here's what we can do."

There was a catch. Fifty percent of the money needed to be paid upfront.

"We said, we don't have anything to lose," she said. "Let's try."

But after 10 months, countless emails and no progress, gloria realized something wasn't right.

"It was always sending papers and sending us back and can you send this again," she said. "The bank said they didn't receive anything, don't contact the bank while we're doing this."

Holly Hillbrand says Gloria is just one of thousands of desperate homeowners falling prey to scammers.

"The scam artist will go through public files, government offices, all these things are public record, take notes, send personalized letters to the homeowners," she said.

Here's how you can spot a scam: Number one - they ask for an upfront fee to start work. Number two - they'll promise to secure a loan modification even before learning about the homeowners' financial limitations. And three - they'll tell you to stop making your mortgage payments, going as far as encouraging them to provide fraudulent information to their lenders.

"Know your rights, know who you are speaking with and don't sign a single document until you understand exactly what that document means," Hillibrand said.

Gloria has lost almost $2,000. She hopes speaking out will help others avoid a similar situation.

"This is our only house, this is not an investment," she said. "This is not something that we have to make money off of it. This is our home."

And it's a home she's losing to the recession and to scammers.