'Bad to Really Bad': Foreclosure Rescue Gone Wrong

Her husband is a truck driver, but injuries sidelined him for months, and the man on the other end of the phone was offering help with no risk.

"One hundred percent satisfaction," she said. "If they could not get our mortgage thing modified, that we could get our money back."

They say they checked with the Better Business Bureau, which at the time, had received few complaints. So the Dillons paid a steep $3,000 advance fee. Then came what experts said was dangerous advice. The Dillons said People's First told them to stop making mortgage payments and avoid talking to their bank.

"That's what they were told," said the current employee. "They wouldn't be a potential client if they weren't behind."

Howard and Struthers said the independent broker they dealt with gave the same advice.

"Six months went by and I thought, what in the world have we just done," Howard said. "Here we are now six months down the road having not paid any payments on our mortgages. And nothing's going on."

And in San Diego, People's First was doing big business, with as many as 40 salespeople selling to hundreds of often desperate homeowners. But in the back room, where the actual bank negotiations took place, for months a handful of workers were completely overwhelmed, "surrounded by files," said Nichols.

"We have files in there since last June and July that we still have, and the reason they weren't worked on is because they were lost," said the current employee.

Debbie Dillon says she repeatedly called and emailed asking for updates on her case, but rarely got through. When she finally did reach someone, "I said are you people gonna do anything?" she said.

She said the response was, "Yeah, we're working on it. I said that's all you ever tell is you're working on it. But nothing."

Soon, complaints were starting to pile up at the Better Business Bureau. 83 complaints about People's First Financial in the last year.

Seeking Answers From Loan Modification CEO

The company earned an F rating, partly because it had not been adequately answering complaints. "20/20" confronted CEO Tim Hutchison at the People's First offices to try to get some answers, and he invited us in to speak to his brother Trevor and their lawyer.

Trevor Hutchison called the Better Business Bureau rating "just someone's opinion.

"The only reason we don't have a superior rating is because there was a couple of complaints that were missed to respond to. And that's it."

According to the BBB, there have actually been 83 complaints about People's First Financial in the last year.

Even worse, California said People's First has been breaking the law, because without state approval of their consumer contracts, they cannot charge an advance fee.

"Well to my knowledge we don't do that [charge an advance fee]," said Trevor Hutchison. "But if you want to put any questions in writing and send those over I'd be more than happy to answer those questions."

When pressed about the policy and charging money upfront, Trevor Hutchison said, "Um, you know, that's a question that our legal department would be good to answer."

He said the lawyer present was "not the only one, so if there are questions about contracts, things like that, I'd be more than happy to answer those in writing."

Neither Tim Hutchison, Trevor Hutchison or their attorney would explain the advance fees charged.

"We collect fees on services rendered," said Trevor Hutchison. "So that's what we do."

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