Ads promote AGScamHelp.com, a Web-based app that educates consumers on how to avoid and report mortgage rescue scams and obtain help from trustworthy organizations
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a targeted advertising campaign and consumer education initiative to help Buffalo homeowners spot, avoid and report mortgage rescue scams. Mortgage rescue scams prey on homeowners who are in foreclosure or at-risk of foreclosure. Typically, the scammers will provide what seems like a lifeline out of foreclosure, but then will bilk the homeowner while providing little or no help.
The advertisements will target homeowners in areas of the region hardest-hit by these scams, appearing on billboards and in Facebook ads, particularly in ZIP codes that have reported these types of scams most frequently. The ads will direct homeowners to www.AGScamHelp.com, where homeowners can find access to the homeowner protection program, a network of almost 90 housing counseling and legal service agencies funded by the attorney general to provide free services to homeowners facing foreclosure. Schneiderman launched the Web-based app in December in response to an uptick in complaints from lawyers and housing counselors about the prevalence of mortgage rescues scams.
"The most powerful tools to stop mortgage rescue scams are educated, vigilant homeowners," Schneiderman said. "These scams are particularly pernicious, because they take victims of the housing crash and make them victims again. My office will do all we can to ensure homeowners have the tools they need to protect themselves and we will continue to vigorously pursue scammers who target vulnerable homeowners."
The AGScamHelp.com site and the related advertising campaign is supported using funds from the national mortgage settlement, the $25 billion agreement between 49 state attorneys general and the nation's five largest mortgage servicers.
Nationwide, mortgage rescue scammers have conned $100 million from more than 42,000 homeowners, according to a December report by the Center for NYC Neighborhoods and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
As with the foreclosure crisis itself, New Yorkers have been hit particularly hard by the foreclosure rescue scam epidemic. New York homeowners have submitted more than 2,700 foreclosure rescue scam complaints to the Lawyer Committee for Civil Rights, documenting at least $8.25 million in losses. New York homeowners trail only California and Florida in the number of complaints reported to the Loan Modification Scam Database.
In Erie County, homeowners have reported more than 50 alleged scams to the Lawyers Committee in recent years. On average, each New York victim of a foreclosure rescue scam reported a loss of $4,183 - about $900 more than the national average. Beyond the immediate losses, these scams often result in a domino effect that raises that dollar figure: Homeowners can end up losing tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars more because their homes fall into foreclosure as a direct result of the scam.
The oversight and management of AGScamHelp.com and the homeowner protection program come from two nonprofits: the Center for New York City Neighborhoods and Empire Justice Center. According to these agencies, homeowner protection program grantees are reporting a record number of clients who have been scammed by a mortgage rescue company before they find their way to the HOPP program.
"The Center for New York City Neighborhoods applauds Attorney General Schneiderman for his leadership in combating foreclosure rescue scams, which steal millions of dollars from vulnerable New York families every year," said Christie Peale, executive director of the Center for New York City Neighborhoods. "This outreach and awareness campaign is critical to getting out in front of these despicable scammers, and we are committed to assisting the attorney general in reaching homeowners before they become victims of a scam."
Foreclosure rescue scammers target vulnerable homeowners and, for an upfront fee, generally promise to save their homes by negotiating lower mortgage payments or principal reductions with the homeowners' mortgage servicers or lenders. After collecting upfront fees, these scam operations fail to provide the services promised, placing their victims at even greater risk of foreclosure.
Since many homeowners do not know about foreclosure scams, Schneiderman's new initiative aims to direct needed information to New Yorkers who are most at risk of being victimized, providing tips on how to avoid these scams and where to go for assistance.
The billboards will be placed in high traffic areas and Facebook ads will be targeted in ZIP codes where foreclosure rates and scam complaints have been most common.
AGScamHelp is a Web-based app that homeowners can access on their computers, smartphones and tablets. Users will also be directed to the app through the attorney general's HOPP website, www.AGHomeHelp.com. AGScamHelp has several informational features:
•Search government-vetted companies: AGScamHelp will allow consumers to search the name of an individual or company to determine if that entity is a "government-vetted" agency (that is, either a member of the attorney general's HOPP network or a HUD-certified counseling agency). If the company searched is not a government-vetted agency, the consumer will be told to proceed with caution and advised with several tips on how to identify signs of a foreclosure rescue scam.
•Locate nearby counseling partners: The Web-based app also features an interactive map that will allow a consumer to find the nearest HOPP grantee. The attorney general has dedicated $100 million to fund HOPP, a network of more than 85 housing counseling and legal services agencies across the state that are dedicated to providing free assistance to New Yorkers.
•Report scams: Consumers who have already been contacted by or are in the process of working with a company suspected of operating a foreclosure rescue scam also will have the option to file a complaint with the attorney general's office. They will be directed to a separate page where they can complete a complaint form online. All complaints will be directed to the attorney general's consumer frauds and protection bureau, and will be mediated by the attorney general's office.
•Get tips: AGScamHelp offers details on how to recognize signs of a foreclosure rescue scam, including samples of scam letters and other resources utilized by fraudsters to target homeowners, and provides information about recent foreclosure scams that have been the subject of enforcement actions brought by the attorney general's office and other law enforcement agencies.
Since October 2012, the homeowner protection program has served more than 50,000 homeowners statewide, including more than 3,000 families in Western New York.