According to the federal department of Housing and Urban Development, an estimated three million families have already lost their homes to foreclosure since 2007. But the worst may still be ahead; analysts now predict that as many as eight million more Americans could face foreclosure by 2012.
With so many desperate homeowners looking for solutions, a new kind of consumer fraud has found a ready-made market. Families fighting for their homes and financial survival can be gullible to shady businesses that promise guaranteed mortgage modifications or a halt to foreclosures already in progress. Oftentimes, aggressive sales pitches to troubled homeowners claim that serious financial problems can go away as soon as payment of an advance fee is made. Other solicitations call for sharing personal financial information over the phone or online to quickly solve a housing dilemma.
The spread of these and other consumer scams have now trigged a new campaign by HUD and other consumer groups with dual goals. Know It. Avoid It. Report It is a new campaign that seeks to: 1) direct homeowners facing foreclosure to trusted housing resources and counselors; and 2) solicit the support of homeowners to shut down scammers who target communities of color and the elderly. The campaign includes support from the Federal Trade Commission, NeighborWorks America, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law. Using a combination of traditional and social media, the effort will also include multi-lingual brochures, posters and flyers along with multiple outreach activities in hard-hit areas such as Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
“You can’t go around Miami without seeing all these promises to ‘help’ and the result is that too many people are being taken advantage of,” said Ed Jennings Jr., HUD Southeast Regional Administrator.
“With millions of homeowners in foreclosure or at risk of losing their homes as they fall behind on mortgage payments, and eight million Americans expected to face foreclosure now through 2012, the timing of this campaign could not be more prudent,” continued Jennings. “When you know better, you do better.”
Another outreach effort in HUD’s campaign featured a two-hour telethon on June 1 with more than 20 housing counselors in the studio of Los Angeles’ KMEX-TV. Counselors answered viewer calls and also sought information to determine whether callers were at risk of being scammed and provided information on how and where to report scams.
Although HUD’s campaign has begun in three heavily-affected markets, every state where large numbers of foreclosures have occurred is also a potential target for this new kind of fraud. Residents of other states with large foreclosures include: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
Anyone, regardless of where they live, can dial a toll free help line at 1-888-995-HOPE (4673), or go online for more advice on how to avoid housing scams at http://www.loanscamlert.org.
Additionally, the Center for Responsible Lending has state-by-state information on the number of foreclosures and the costs of bad lending practices, including payday loans, bank overdraft loans,and overcharges in auto financing. It is available at: http://www.responsiblelending.org/mortgage-lending/tools-resources/factsheets/
With communities of color already having lost $350 billion of wealth through foreclosures, everyone should be on guard against promises of debt relief that sound too good to be true. If there really was a quick and easy fix to the foreclosure fiasco, it would have happened before so many families lost their homes.
(Charlene Crowell is the Center for Responsible Lending’s communications manager for state policy and outreach. She can be reached at: Charlene.firstname.lastname@example.org.)