If you or someone you know is in trouble with their mortgage, there are lots of people who claim that they can help you. The challenge you face, however, is determining who is legitimate and who is running a scam.

As unemployment continues to soar, an increasing number of people are facing serious challenges in making their mortgage payments. Sadly, distressed homeowners have become prime targets for scammers who claim they can help troubled homeowners escape their financial woes. Here are some of the most common real estate mortgage scams.

If you or someone you know is in trouble with their mortgage, there are lots of people who claim that they can help you. The challenge you face, however, is determining who is legitimate and who is running a scam.

As unemployment continues to soar, an increasing number of people are facing serious challenges in making their mortgage payments. Sadly, distressed homeowners have become prime targets for scammers who claim they can help troubled homeowners escape their financial woes. Here are some of the most common real estate mortgage scams.

1. In order for us to negotiate with your lender on your behalf, you must first deed the scammer the property.

People who run this scam will tell you a partial truth: The lender will negotiate only with the owner. This is true. It does not mean, however, that you must deed the property to someone else in order to obtain help. What the scammers aren’t telling you is that you can authorize an attorney or some other qualified individual to represent your interests. There is no need to deed the property to a third party.

2. If you are attempting to obtain a loan workout or a loan modification, don’t rely on a real estate agent.

Unless your agent is a licensed attorney, it is illegal in most states for him or her to negotiate a loan workout or a loan modification with your lender. Your agent can write up offers and present them. In contrast, negotiating the terms of a mortgage workout can be considered as practicing law and thus, may require an attorney. The agent could lose his or her real estate license if deemed to be practicing law without a license.

3. Beware of deeds hidden in refinance paperwork.

This is one of the worst possible scams. The scammer contacts the owner of a distressed property and offers to refinance the property. Hidden in the "refinance" documents is a deed that conveys the property to the scammer. A set of loan documents can be more than 100 pages in length. It’s common for people not to read the documents. Be smart. Carefully review the documents before signing them. More importantly, carefully examine any document that has the word "deed" or that requires a notary. If you are unfamiliar with what types of instruments your state uses to convey property, be sure to find out before signing anything. Better yet, have any documents you are considering signing reviewed by an attorney first.

4. Rental scams

One of the most common mortgage scams involves having you stay in the property as a renter. These scammers ask you to deed your property over to them. You pay them rent and they promise to let you buy the property back at a later date. The scammers pocket your rent and disappear. You end up out of your home. Worse yet, you are still obligated for the debt. Lenders always require written documentation to alter who is responsible for the loan.

5. Avoid scammers who charge upfront fees.

Legal hotline attorneys in Maryland have been receiving reports of attorneys who are running scams as well. These attorneys charge $500 for the homeowner to attend this seminar. The attorney then hands off the homeowner to a real estate agent to handle the transaction. As a rule of thumb, be wary of seminars offering to help you get out of trouble. …CONTINUED

6. Make sure you place your "hope" in the right place.

Not all organizations that have "hope" in their names are legitimate. Three of the legitimate "hope" groups are HopeNow.com (888-995-HOPE), preservehomeownership.org, and Housing Options and Planning Enterprises. Each organization can provide you with counseling in terms of your specific situation. There is no fee involved. To locate your state’s chapter of Hope Now, do a Google search using the terms "Hope Now" and the name of your state.

7. Never make a deal with someone that directly solicited you, either by mail, e-mail, telephone, fliers, or in person.

Often times the people who contact you directly to offer you mortgage assistance are running an identity theft scam. They will tell you that they need your Social Security number, credit-card numbers and other confidential information in order to run a credit report. When you provide it, they have everything they need to steal your identity and engage in credit-card fraud.

8. Fill-in-the-blank

Another common scam is to ask you to sign documents where there are blank lines or spaces. Never do this. Once your signature is on the document, the scammer can change the terms of the agreement or could add terms that were not in your original agreement.

9. Never rely on verbal agreements.

There’s an old saying in the real estate business: Verbal agreements are as good as the paper on which they are written. In most states, real estate contracts are binding only if they are in writing. Whatever you want to include in your contract, make sure that it is in writing. Don’t rely on verbal promises. Also, make sure that you have a complete set of copies of anything that you signed or any other documents pertaining to the sale or mortgage(s) on your property.

Perhaps the best way to handle mortgage difficulty is to contact the workout department at your lender (not the customer service number on your mortgage payment). Your lender doesn’t want your property back. In most cases, they will be happy to work with you to find a resolution.

Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, trainer and author of "Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success" and other books. You can reach her at Bernice@RealEstateCoach.com.

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