PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Surviving foreclosure is hard enough, but hiring the wrong professionals for help can make it even worse.
Amparo Jimenez Soler has learned the hard way. She bought her dream home at the peak of the bubble. Like so many homeowners in Port St. Lucie, she eventually needed help paying her mortgage.
"To give you an idea before everything started, my credit score was 802," Soler said.
She turned to her bank for a modification and was approved, but the deal was never finalized.
Amparo hired an attorney for help and that's when her frustrations began.
"I haven't had a life in two years."
She trusted her attorney, who was withdrawing his fee directly from her bank account each month.
"I lean back. I'm paying, a lot of money, so they are handling it. Wrong," Soler said.
Amparo says she was stood up in court and the judge's order said her attorney provided no evidence to support her case. Amparo had no way of knowing what her attorney was doing because he wasn't returning her calls. That's when she sent a letter firing him.
"After more than one year with your firm and $4,200 spent, when time came to defend my case my calls and emails were never answered in a timely manner. I was stood up in court by your firm. According to the judge, you did not provide any evidence to support my case. I was misrepresented and your firm failed to disclose material facts that could have won my case. Therefore, due to your lack of professionalism, and the way my case was not handled, I am formally canceling my authorization to your firm to withdraw funds from my [bank account]. I am a very dissatisfied customer who does not understand how can you sleep at night.
Because there have been so many cases like Amparo's in here in Florida, the Florida Office of Financial Regulation now requires anyone providing foreclosure rescue services like this to have an active license. That even applies to companies outside of the state performing services inside the state.
And the Florida Legislature enacted the Foreclosure Rescue Fraud Prevention Act to specifically address foreclosure rescue businesses and their potentially abusive practices. The Act prohibits anyone from collecting upfront fees for these services and requires a written contract including certain disclosures like the person's name and address, the exact nature and detail or each service to be provided, the total amount and terms of charges and the date of the agreement. They're required to give you a copy to review at least a day before and you have the right to cancel within three business days. The agreement also has to suggest you speak with your lender first to see if you can do any of the services cheaper yourself. You're required to be given a copy not more than three hours after you sign it. In the Act, a foreclosure rescue consultant is defined as "a person who directly or indirectly makes a solicitation, representation, or offer to a homeowner to provide or perform, in return for payment of money or other valuable consideration, foreclosure related rescue services." Foreclosure related rescue services means "any good or service related to, or promising assistance in connection with stopping , avoiding or delaying foreclosure proceedings concerning residential real property or curing or otherwise addressing a default or failure to timely pay with respect to a residential mortgage loan obligation.
How can you avoid becoming a victim? Here are some simple tips: Check out credentials, reputation, experience. Always keep in personal contact with your lender or servicer. Keep an eye open for the red flags. Many claim to know about fake government or bank programs or have special contacts. Don't pay upfront fees, don't make your mortgage payment to anyone but your mortgage company, read and understand everything you sign, get all promises in writing, consider working with a HUD approved credit counselor – often free, avoid unrealistic promises, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. Avoid anyone who seems too aggressive.
Amparo wishes she had done her homework and had done a better job staying in contact with her attorney.
"I'm in shock. How can it be so many people that they just care about getting money, not honoring agreements, not caring about you."
Florida's Attorney General's office is actively investigated many of these schemes. If you feel you may have been a victim, you can file a complaint at www.myfloridalegal.com or by calling 1-866-966-7226. You can also call the OCC at 800-613-6743 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.