I would like to get my mortgage modified or restructured.
I came across a law office that is based in California, but practices in New Jersey and other states. I have been scammed before, and my mortgage is extremely high. My bank does not care to help because I have been paying on time, but things are getting increasingly difficult. How do I find out if a lawyer is legitimate?
- Kaye-Ann Thomas, Roselle Park, N.J.
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.
It sounds like your Spidey sense is kicking in, and that’s a good thing because the recent trend among mortgage scammers is to hide behind a fancy law firm name as they troll for victims.
It’s illegal under federal law to charge money up-front for a promise to modify a mortgage. But some of the old “mortgage rescue” schemes have tried to exploit a narrow exception for lawyers. They’ve teamed up with shady lawyers to do the exact schemes they used to, using the veil of providing “legal services.”
We told the story of one such law firm last spring. And just last week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Trade Commission and 15 states announced lawsuits against a slew of mortgage modification businesses that styled themselves as legal firms or as being associated with lawyers. The suits alleged the companies collected more than $25 million in illegal advance fees from homeowners who were desperate to prevent being foreclosed upon or who wanted a better mortgage rate.
Consumers who are considering hiring a lawyer for debt help should check the lawyer’s record at their state’s bar association. If you do hire a law firm, make sure you actually get to meet with the lawyer. A firm that takes your money but won’t let you talk to anyone above an underling is a sign that something is wrong, consumer advocates say.
Here are some more tips from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:
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.