The mortgage crisis that has caused misery for many homeowners has generated opportunities for scammers. And people older than 50 are a prime target of these frauds and cons.
A new report by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law found the proportion of older people victimized by foreclosure rescue or loan modification scams is growing. The Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group operates the Loan Modification Scam database at PreventLoanScams.org, where homeowners can report frauds. In June 2010, 26 percent of all fraud reports were from people older than 51. That number grew to nearly 45 percent in July 2011. The average amount people in that age group lost to scammers was $3,358, more than $300 higher than the average for all victims.
"This is a big proportion of the losses," says Yolanda McGill, senior counsel of the Committee's Fair Housing and Fair Lending project. McGill says older homeowners are often targeted by mail or phone calls. The mail solicitations typically bear symbols of legitimacy, and the companies cloak themselves in official-sounding names. "The mailings have an eagle crest, or might say, 'Obama stimulus plan,' or have the "equal housing opportunity' symbol on it," she says. In the case of phone calls, scammers try to confuse older homeowners. "Someone calls and says, 'Don't you remember? We spoke last week.' Or they'll call and say, 'You're already approved,' and ask for money to finalize the deal."
Homeowners also can find trouble when they search for help. Those fearing foreclosure sometimes browse for loan- modification assistance on the Internet and end up in the arms of scammers. Anyone needing foreclosure help should not use companies that charge for their services, McGill says. Instead, talk to your lender and seek the free help offered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (hud.gov). "You should only be working with a HUD-approved housing counselor and your lender," McGill says. "Be wary of any third party, no matter what they say."
If you've been the victim of a mortgage or foreclosure scam, report it at PreventLoanScams.org or call 888-995-4673. You can also receive help and counseling at that number. To find a HUD-approved housing counselor, call 800-569-4287.