Dear Annie: In January of this year, my wife received a fabulous offer in the mail from an established law firm, promising to sell our house for a profit and cancel our mortgage debt. Our $3,500 monthly payment is leaving us house poor and broke. After reading the letter over and over and reading dozens of success stories on the firm’s website, we saw this offer as an end to our financial problems. We contacted them immediately.
A cheerful “executive” from the law firm shared more success stories from other states, saying how they’ve come to help Nevadans. Great! Where do we sign? The next day we signed and notarized the paperwork and sent the required $900 fee.
Shortly after we stopped making payments our mortgage lender started chasing us for our late payments. The more they called the more frustrated and confused we became. Wasn’t the law firm supposed to be handling this? We emailed them and were told that they were working on our case, and to “hang in there.” We asked when our house would be sold. The executive (not attorney) responded cryptically, stating that we would be asked to move out soon. Why would we have to move before the house was sold? We demanded the attorney in charge of our file call us immediately to answer our questions. No attorney ever contacted us.
In March, a document arrived, saying the deed of our house was no longer in our names – it was now in the name of that law firm. We were shocked! What was happening? The house had not been sold. We had not seen a profit. But now we had to move out of a house that suddenly and without warning, no longer belonged to us? We were drowning …
Annie — we need your help.
Dave & Patty, Sparks
Real estate scams like these are becoming more common, preying on increasingly desperate homeowners who are underwater and seeking any solution — even a miracle. According to the National Association of Realtors, suspected mortgage fraud activity increased by 5 percent in 2010, with 70,472 reports of suspicious activity and an estimated $1.5 billion in losses from mortgage fraud last year.
This outbreak of fraudulent activity has prompted a warning to real estate agents:
“Fraudulent reconveyance documents have been appearing in California, and may appear elsewhere, executed by signatures of persons purporting to be the officers or employees of various entities serving as the trustee of a deed of trust. However, such [documents] have not been executed by the actual persons …”
Dear Dave and Patty: I understand that you are in a miserable situation and you’re not alone. It is usually the most trusting folks who are taken advantage of. I know that you are both in panic mode but staying calm and taking the right steps is the best thing you can do right now.
Here are the steps to report and expose the law firm:
Step One: Call your mortgage lender, tell them your story and ask to speak to a specialist or the legal department. They have your original note. They have also probably heard similar scam stories and can provide some suggestions on what to do next.
Step Two: Write to your local Office of the Attorney General for Nevada (http://ag.state.nv.us). They will also ask you to share your story in detail, including any documents you signed, evidence of money sent, promises the law firm put in writing, etc., so they can investigate.
Step Three: Check with your local title company or the title company where you signed your loan documents. They will be able to research to see who currently owns your home. Then provide that information to your local attorney general.
Step Four: As you’ve probably seen on television, more consumers are turning to expose scam artists to their local news station. These companies are breaking into our communities and robbing us. As citizens, exposing their actions and warning others is our civic responsibility.
If something sounds too good to be true, trust your gut. Always ask for a recent client testimonial and/or reference in your local community — one that you can check out for yourself (as opposed to an anonymous one or one attributed to “Mary in Ohio”).
Dave and Patty have contacted the state attorney general, the FBI, the Real Estate Division of Nevada in Carson City, channel 2 and channel 8. They have also retained a real estate attorney specializing in litigation.
To be continued …