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Scammers steal homes from those in need of rescue

"WE BUY HOUSES FOR CA$H" or "Refinance Your Mortgage!" But in some cases, these "solutions" are worse than the problem.

"WE BUY HOUSES FOR CA$H" or "Refinance Your Mortgage!"

But in some cases, these "solutions" are worse than the problem.

Legitimate foreclosure rescue services are often nonprofits and don't normally charge upfront fees; also, homeowners usually come to them seeking help.

The scammers, on the other hand, find potential victims by combing through public records to see who is in danger of being foreclosed. Then they bombard them with calls or direct-mail solicitations that sometimes look like letters from a government agency.

In one type of scam, a consultant demands an upfront fee of $1,000 or more to negotiate with the loan provider on the owner's behalf for a more affordable loan, but then the company does little or nothing. Besides being $1,000 poorer, the owner also has lost valuable time he or she could have used to work out a plan with the provider.

In another common rescue scheme, the foreclosure consultant convinces a homeowner to sign over the home's title, either to the consultant or a third party. The homeowner remains in the house and pays rent, believing that he is buying time to get back on track and that the consultant will eventually sell the home back to him again.

But in some cases, the rent charged to the homeowner is even higher than the mortgage payments. If the homeowner can't pay, he's evicted. Or the consultant refinances the house, often multiple times, draining the equity.

Sometimes, property owners don't even know they have given away their homes. Many of the victims are elderly, uneducated or don't speak English.

Without laws against rescue scams, prosecutors can go after the perpetrators by claiming they violated deceptive-advertising statutes, but the threshold for proving fraud is high. Additionally, when the scammer produces a stack of contracts the victims have signed - even if the owners were deceived about what they were signing - prosecutors have no case against the rescue consultants. *