Freddie Mac issued a list of “red flags” in a blog entry Monday for distressed borrowers seeking help with their mortgage to watch out for in order to avoid fraud.
Citing a Detroit Free Press story from April about Anthony Carta, who was sentenced to 30 to 99 years in prison for perpetrating a “faith-based” foreclosure relief scam in which he promised to help distressed borrowers avoid foreclosure in exchange for an up-front fee. Carta marketed the alleged foreclosure relief services of his company, Freedom by Faith Ministries, through various unwitting Christian channels from 2009 and 2013 and collected money but did not provide any of the promised services. For his part in the scam, Carta was ordered to pay $400,000 in restitution to more than 300 victims.
On the blog, Freddie Mac points out the number of recent mortgage relief or foreclosure relief scams that were perpetrated by exploiting the members of a particular community.
“The idea behind ‘affinity fraud’ is to exploit the baseline trust that generally exists within an ‘affinity group’ – i.e. a group defined by a common heritage, language, ethnicity, workplace, or circle of friends,” Freddie Mac wrote. “What happened in Detroit is a sad reminder that no group is inherently safe from fraudsters, including devout and religious people.”
One of the steps Freddie Mac lists for borrowers to take in order to avoid being the victim of a scam is, first and foremost, calling your servicer. The borrower’s servicer is the only one who can modify the mortgage or finalize a loss mitigation plan – anyone other than the servicer who professes the ability to do so is a scammer, especially if they require the payment of an upfront fee.
Second, outside of your servicer, borrowers can receive reliable advice by seeking free assistance from a HUD-approved housing counselor. Freddie Mac also says on the blog post that anyone who promises to pay the mortgage and rent the house back to the borrower in exchange for the title to the house should raise an immediate red flag. The GSE also warns borrowers against signing documents with errors or blank spaces, documents they don’t understand, or documents that transfer the title of the home – since genuine mortgage workouts or home retention solutions will never require the title of a home to be transferred.
Freddie Mac encourages anyone who suspects fraud to report it by calling (800) 4FRAUD8 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.