Program offers free services to New Yorkers at risk of foreclosure, scams

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Rob Nelson has the latest details. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

There is a renewed push to protect at-risk homeowners in New York, with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announcing an influx of $20 million into a program to protect those facing foreclosure scams.

In addition to the funding for the Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP), Schneiderman launched the Foreclosure Rescue Scam Prevention Initiative, a new grant program that will enhance outreach, education, and referral services for homeowners at risk of fraudulent foreclosure schemes.

"New York has led the nation in developing innovative ways to address the fallout from the foreclosure crisis," Schneiderman said. "Now, with foreclosure rescue scams on the rise, we are enhancing HOPP's capacity to empower our most vulnerable homeowners to avoid becoming victims of these scams."

The grants will go to housing organizations across New York City, Long Island and the Hudson Valley, where foreclosure rescue scams such as deed theft have been most prevalent.

The funding comes from bank settlements that Schneiderman secured through the federal-state mortgage-backed securities working group, to which he was appointed to co-chair in 2012 by President Barack Obama.

Foreclosure rescue scams target vulnerable homeowners and, for an upfront fee, generally promise to save their homes by negotiating lower mortgage payments or principal reductions with the homeowners' mortgage servicers or lenders. After collecting upfront fees, these scam operations fail to provide the services promised, placing their victims at even greater risk of foreclosure. In some instances, scammers actually convince the homeowners to sign over the title to their home.

"Thanks to this new initiative from AG Schneiderman, other people won't be victimized the way we were," said Joseph Clarke, whose home was the target of a foreclosure rescue scam. "Getting early information out to vulnerable homeowners will help prevent others from experiencing the kind of heartache we went through."

To protect yourself from becoming a victim of a foreclosure rescue scam, the Attorney General's Office offers the following tips.

--Be skeptical of online ads or telephone callers that promise they can get you a mortgage modification or save your home from foreclosure. Only your bank or loan servicer can approve a loan modification.

--Visit AGScamHelp.com to determine if a company is legitimate.

--Do not give your personal financial information, such as your bank account number, social security number or the name of your loan servicer, to a caller offering to help save you from foreclosure. Your bank will already have this information.

--Never pay an up-front fee for mortgage-related services. It is a violation of New York law to charge upfront fees for such services, and violations should be reported to the Attorney General's hotline at 1-855-HOME-456.

--If you believe you have been scammed by a foreclosure rescue operator or a debt relief organization, submit a complaint to the New York State Attorney General's Office: at ag.ny.gov/consumer-frauds/Filing-a-Consumer-Complaint

New Yorkers can also visit AGScamHelp.com or call 1-855-HOME-456 for more information.

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