Dear ABC News Fixer: I was ripped off by a company called RMA Legal Network of Holbrook, N.Y. This company promises it will help people with their mortgage payments through the HAMP modification program that President Obama created.
They said they would help me for a small fee of $2,800. After one year of lies, today I'm facing foreclosure, and now there is no more RMA Legal Network to help me.
I don't want anyone else to go through what I am going though. Please help me stop these people.
-Ingrid Soriano, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.
Dear Ingrid: When we got your letter at the beginning of April, we knew we needed to act fast. RMA Legal Network, which had taken your money and strung you along for a year, was no longer answering its phones.
And worse, your bank had already filed foreclosure papers in court.
We called in the big guns on this one: ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross.
[WATCH the full report tonight on ABC News' "The Lookout" at 10 p.m. EST]
We traveled to your home on April 10, and as we stood in your tidy kitchen, you told us how you had moved from the Bronx to provide a better life for your sons – and how, later, after a divorce, you struggled financially.
It was during that rough financial patch that you heard from RMA Legal Network. You said RMA told you that as a divorced, single mom you'd be a perfect candidate for the federal Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), which would lower your mortgage payments. They quickly took your $2,800 but never came through with a new mortgage.
Making matters worse, you said they directed you to communicate only with them and not with your bank.
The ABC News Fixer's first step was to get some help from your bank. Since you have a steady job, we were hopeful they'd find some way to keep you in your home.
We started with the executive offices at Bank of America, where they jumped on it right away. They began documenting what had happened and collecting information on your financial status, while your loan moved to Green Tree Servicing.
At the same time, Brian Ross was trying to get answers from Rory Michael Alarcon, the baby-faced lawyer who ran RMA Legal Network and amassed hundreds of consumer complaints. Alarcon recently settled a lawsuit in New York by agreeing to stop practicing in the mortgage modification business and pay $50,000 in restitution, though his company remains under investigation in three other states. When Brian caught up with Alarcon this summer, Alarcon wasn't happy; he ducked into his office and refused to comment.
But we got some good news about your situation in July: Green Tree was able to get you into a trial modification program.
Under that Fannie Mae program, Green Tree lowered your monthly mortgage payments by almost $300. You've already made the first two payments of the trial arrangement, and after you make the third monthly payment, the modified mortgage will become permanent.
Whitney Finch, vice president of investor relations at Green Tree, said that by stretching the loan to 40 years and giving you a lower interest rate, the payments will be manageable and you'll be able to keep your house.
"It's really wonderful for us to have someone we can help," Finch told the ABC News Fixer. "I'm so pleased that there is a happy ending."
Yours is a cautionary tale for any homeowner who may be struggling. So-called "mortgage rescue" schemes can be quite sophisticated, and losses to American homeowners are at least $83 million, according to the Loan Modification Scam Prevention Network, which gathers complaints in partnership with local, state and federal law enforcement.
Homeowners who need help should check out www.preventloanscams.org, the website for the Loan Modification Scam Prevention Network. At www.HUD.gov, homeowners can find certified housing counselors. Another good resource is www.hopenow.com, a joint project of the lending industry and non-profit agencies.
The ABC News Fixer stopped by your house last week. You told us the trial modification is going well. Supper was cooking on the stove, and your youngest son had just returned from summer camp, brimming with stories. You looked hopeful.
We'll check back in October for more on this story.
- The ABC News Fixer
[You can also learn more about how protect yourself from the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law's Loan Modification Scam Prevention Network by going to PreventLoanScams.org.]
Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.