Loan scammers get more aggresive

Southern California law enforcement officials and housing advocates are trying to get the word out about loan modification scam artists. Those scammers have been busy – trying to bilk people at risk of losing their homes.

KPCC’s Shirley Jahad has more on the latest effort in Orange County.

Shirley Jahad: Word is going out to clergy to warn vulnerable people at risk of foreclosure about the proliferation of con artists acting like they want to help.

Reverend Sharon Gracen: That’s the message for our churches: the wolves are after your sheep.

Jahad: The Reverend Sharon Gracen is vicar at Faith Episcopal Church in Laguna Niguel. She has a lot of elderly worshipers in her congregation. And the elderly are often targeted in mortgage scams. Gracen attended the seminar in Garden Grove this week where federal banking officials, local law enforcement, and housing advocates explained the scams to clergy.

Gracen: I like to think of us not as shepherds, because that’s kind of exalted, but as sheep dogs. And we’ve got to bark. We’ve got to snarl. We’ve got to bite. We’ve got to do everything we can to see to it that people who are vulnerable are safe from these predators.

Jahad: The loan modification racket is getting more aggressive. Law enforcement officials say some scammers try to get into churches to make presentations to parishioners. They promise to help distressed homeowners renegotiate bank loans – for an upfront fee of hundreds or thousands of dollars. They take the money, but give little or no help. Mostly, they leave the home owner high and dry – and out of their last dime.

Often they use official looking letterhead. Some even copy bank logos and seals onto letters to make their solicitations look legit. There’s one way to know if you are getting scammed. That’s if they ask for money up front.

Melody Winter Nava: Do not pay for that which is free. And that’s help.

Jahad: Melody Winter Nava is regional manager of community development for the Federal Reserve Bank.

Nava: Please tell your congregations before they pay anything, look at the list of HUD certified counseling agencies. Call one of those and have a conversation.

Jahad: Officials from Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Reserve, along with local law enforcement and housing advocates are planning to hold more seminars in the coming months. The next ones will be in L.A. and San Bernardino counties to get the word out to faith communities to beware of wolves in lenders’ clothing.

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