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Homeowners, beware of firms charging a fee for mortgage help

November 17th, 2011 7:01 AM by Lehel S.

Homeowners, beware of firms charging a fee for mortgage help

Plenty of companies are eager to exploit the uncertain economy and housing market by trying to separate property owners from their money. But services seeking high fees for foreclosure assistance seldom prove beneficial, housing experts say.

Joyce Thompson and her husband, Paul English, were understandably shocked to receive an official-looking letter with the words "foreclosure sale pending" on the envelope.

The letter included the address of their Long Beach condo and an auction date.

"At this point," it warned, "your home will be sold and you will be evicted from your property."

But all was not lost. The letter turned out to be from a company called Expert Legal Helpers, which declared that "we will have authorization to postpone the sale of your property once we are contacted."

So Thompson, 56, gave them a call. "It sounded like a boiler room — lots of people talking in the background," she said.

A boiler room, for those not in the know (or who haven't seen the movie of the same name), is a call center where salespeople typically pitch a questionable product, usually with high-pressure tactics.

Thompson listened to the salesman's pitch for a few minutes and then hung up. She suspected it was a scam.

"We've only owned the condo for about two months," Thompson said. "It would take a lot of effort at this point for us to be delinquent on our mortgage payments. We'd practically have to beg them to put us in foreclosure."

Needless to say, Thompson and English haven't missed any payments. According to their lender, JPMorgan Chase, there's no problem with their account.

The bogus foreclosure letter Thompson and English received serves as a reminder to all homeowners that there are plenty of companies out there that will try to exploit the uncertain economy and housing market to separate you from your money.

There's been more and more of this sort of thing as homeowners struggle to keep a roof over their heads. Foreclosure filings rose in the third quarter, with 1 in every 213 properties nationwide facing a default notice, auction or bank repossession, according to market researcher RealtyTrac.

"If you ever get something about your property that's not from your lender, contact your lender," said Gary Kishner, a Chase spokesman. "Always make sure before you do anything."

Thompson and English live in Tustin. They bought the condo in a short sale for their daughter, who's attending Cal State Long Beach.

The website for Expert Legal Helpers says the company "will negotiate with your lender to reduce your mortgage payments, reduce principal loan balance and stop your foreclosure!"

"Where other companies are using inexperienced representatives, we have highly qualified attorneys, agents and appraisers," it says. "We have a well-connected network to help you achieve the best possible result for your particular situation."

The first red flag, though, is that when you call the number provided for Expert Legal Helpers, you end up speaking with a company called Expert Home Relief.

"It's the same company," explained Maria Burks, who identified herself as the processing manager for Expert Home Relief and Expert Legal Helpers. "Mainly we are Expert Home Relief."

Expert Home Relief doesn't have its own website. Burks is listed as the registrant for the Expert Legal Helpers site.

But a record check for the Santa Ana address of Expert Legal Helpers turns up yet another name, Affordable Home Relief Center. "That's also our company," Burks acknowledged.

Posted in:General
Posted by Lehel S. on November 17th, 2011 7:01 AM

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