[Scammer and fraudsters want to separate you from your money – but ABC News can help stop them. Each day of National Consumer Protection Week, The ABC News Fixer will highlight a new scam, con or bamboozle and teach you how to keep from becoming a victim. And if you have a consumer problem that needs fixing, tell us about it HERE.]

Many homeowners were hit hard in the recession, as they fought to stay in their homes amid job losses and declining incomes.

And sadly, those struggling homeowners have become easy marks for “mortgage rescue” con artists.

American homeowners have lost millions to mortgage modification scams in recent years. In a typical scam, the homeowner is promised they’ll get a new loan with better terms if they first pay a large, upfront fee and then continue to send payments to the modification company.

The problem is the scam artists just pocket the money, while the consumer falls further behind and into foreclosure.

Here are three red flags of a mortgage rescue scam:

  • The company guarantees it can get your loan modified by your lender and seeks an upfront fee for its services.

  • The mortgage relief pitch invokes government programs in a bid to seem legitimate.

  • The company may ask you to sign over the deed to your home while they work on your issue.

The Federal Trade Commission’s Mortgage Assistance Relief Services (MARS) Rule makes it illegal for a company to collect any fees until the homeowner has actually received an offer of relief from his lender and accepted it.

But be careful. Some shady operators have tried to get around the MARS Rule by falsely saying they are working with a lawyer. That’s because lawyers are allowed to accept upfront fees for legal work.

If you want to hire an attorney to help you with financial issues, make sure he or she is licensed to practice law in your state, and check out the lawyer’s disciplinary record with the state bar association. Ask friends and relatives to recommend a trusted attorney who has experience in helping people with foreclosure issues.

If you’re in over your head financially, contact your lender or get help from a HUD-approved housing counselor at MakingHomeAffordable.gov.

You can find more info about mortgage scams from the FTC HERE.

And remember: Never send your monthly mortgage payment to an outside company that claims it will modify your loan. Your loan payments should go to your lender.

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.

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Stephanie Zimmermann

Most people groan at the thought of spending hours on the phone with a customer service call center, but Stephanie Zimmermann relishes the chance to slice through red tape.

Before joining ABC News, Stephanie untangled consumer problems at the Chicago Sun-Times, where her popular column recovered more than $1.4 million in refunds, credits, and merchandise for consumers in the Windy City.

Stephanie, who lives in Chicago, has also worked at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and has bachelor's and master's degrees from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. But most of all, Stephanie is a consumer who hates to see anyone else get ripped off.