Monday, June 14, 2010

Facing Foreclosure Free Help is Available by Stephen Geffon - Leader-Observer

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Foreclosure of one’s home can be devastating, doubly so if the loss of the home was due to a scam perpetrated on the unsuspecting homeowner.

However, there is free help available. Queens Legal Services, a not-for-profit organization serving the residents of Queens, last year instituted a Foreclosure Prevention Unit that provides free legal help to homeowners facing foreclosure, including advice and representation in settlement conferences, in negotiations with lenders, and in court proceedings.

Franklin Romeo, a staff attorney for the organization, discussed the group’s foreclosure project at last week’s meeting of Community Board 10 in South Ozone Park. He said that southeastern Queens has been among the hardest hit neighborhoods in the country in the current foreclosure crisis.

“There are a huge number of foreclosures in Queens,” he said.

Romeo said that he and three other attorneys and a paralegal provide free comprehensive legal services for Queens residents including housing evictions, government benefits law, consumer law, family law, foreclosure prevention, and help with citizenship.

Romeo advised homeowners that if they have fallen behind in their mortgage payments they should first try to negotiate with their lender a loan modification. He said that the homeowner should not pay anybody for a loan modification noting that there are numerous Housing and Urban Development (HUD) approved nonprofit organizations that will provide help for free.

“If somebody is trying to get money from you for a loan modification, chances are very high what they are trying to do is rip you off,” he said. “If you have been served with foreclosure papers you should talk to an attorney.”

Homeowners worried about foreclosure can call the group’s hotline on any Monday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at (347) 592-2182.

The Foreclosure Prevention Project is a partner in the Foreclosure Prevention Court Clinic for homeowners, which takes place on Wednesday evenings from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Queens County Civil Court, 89-17 Sutphin Boulevard in Jamaica.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has urged consumers to be alert to foreclosure rescue firms that use the following straight-forward messages like “Stop Foreclosure Now!,” or “Keep Your Home. We know your home is scheduled to be sold. No Problem!” Once they have your attention, says the FTC, they use a variety of tactics to get your money.

In the phony counseling or phantom help scheme, the scam artist tells you that he can negotiate a deal with your lender to save your house if you pay a fee first. You may be told not to contact your lender, lawyer, or credit counselor, and to let the scam artist handle all the details. Once you pay the fee, the scam artist takes off with your money.

In rent-to-buy, you’re told to surrender the title as part of a deal that allows you to remain in your home as a renter, and to buy it back during the next few years. You may be told that surrendering the title will permit a borrower with a better credit rating to secure new financing – and prevent the loss of the home. But the terms of these deals usually are so burdensome that buying back your home becomes impossible. You lose the home, and the scam artist walks off with all or most of your home’s equity. Worse yet, when the new borrower defaults on the loan, you’re evicted.

In the bankruptcy foreclosure scheme, the scam artist may promise to negotiate with your lender or to get refinancing on your behalf if you pay a fee up front. Instead of contacting your lender or refinancing your loan, though, the scam artist pockets the fee and files a bankruptcy case in your name – sometimes without your knowledge.

“Fraudulent foreclosure 'rescue' professionals use half truths and outright lies to sell services that promise relief and then fail to deliver,” read a statement issued by FTC.