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Paul Kiesel
Paul Kiesel
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FBI: Beware of Loan Modification Scams

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According to the Justice Department, San Joaquin Valley has been a hotbed for loan modification scams, as cities like Stockton, Modesto and Merced top the foreclosure rankings among cities nationwide.

Last week, Representative Dennis Cardoza (D-Modesto), urged Attorney General Michael Mukasey to investigate mortgage-reduction schemes that are being marketed to distressed homeowners throughout the Valley.

Most of these scams ask homeowners for an upfront fee in order to start a loan modification program. At best, the homeowners may end up paying for work that is completed by the group asking for the money, however, it’s work that likely could have been done for free through other non-profit organizations or loan-modification assistance programs (i.e. Community Housing Council, a non-profit based in Fresno). At worst, the homeowners pay for work that isn’t done at all.

Cardoza wrote to Mukasey that it was "imperative" that law enforcement authorities "crack down on these foreclosure scams quickly and comprehensively. Cardoza pointed out that San Joaquin Valley residents are particularly vulnerable because of the region’s foreclosure crisis.

The scams are typically initiated over the phone or through the mail, however, the people running the scams sometimes show up at the homes they’re targeting. The companies will then offer the distressed homeowner their services to renegotiate the mortgage in exchange for an up-front fee amounting to one month’s mortgage payment or more.

Just last week, in Modesto, "some homeowners attended a workshop in which they were asked to pay $3,500 for getting their mortgage woes resolved," (San Jose Mercury News, 10/27/08).

The FBI is aware of this problem, as they report to having 1,569 pending mortgage fraud investigations open as of last month. However, it is clear that number will rise and more resources will need to be poured into combating mortgage fraud, as incidences of it has annually doubled between 2003 and 2007.

The FBI has also been taking some flack recently due to their late arrival to all of the rampant mortgage fraud that’s been taking place over the last couple years, but part of that is due to the agency not having enough agents to cover the continuing spread of mortgage fraud, as the housing and foreclosure crisis gets worse. The bureau slashed its criminal investigative work force to expand its national security role after the Sept. 11 attacks, shifting more than 1,800 agents, or nearly one-third of all agents in criminal programs, to terrorism and intelligence duties. Current and former officials say the cutbacks have left the bureau seriously exposed in investigating areas like white-collar crime, which has taken on urgent importance in recent weeks because of the nation’s economic woes.