How to Save Yourself From the Foreclosure Fraud Epidemic

NEW YORK (BankingMyWay) -- Even though U.S. home foreclosures are in decline -- they're down almost 7% from August to September, according to RealtyTrac -- foreclosure scams are still a big threat to delinquent U.S. homeowners.

According to the U.S. Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, suspicious activity reports were way up in the first six months of 2012.

By "suspicious activity" FinCen means potential scams such as requiring homeowners to transfer the titles of their homes to foreclosure repair firms, or having consumers fork over regular monthly payments to those firms. According to FinCen, "victims may lose thousands of dollars in fabricated fees and risk losing their homes as well."

According to the agency, financial institutions reported 2,360 "foreclosure-related SARs" in the first half of 2012, and that's almost as many as the 2,782 incidents reported in all of last year. FinCen says California is far and away the state with the most reported foreclosure scam activity.

What can struggling homeowners do to minimize or even eliminate the odds of being entangled in a foreclosure fraud situation?

The Better Business Bureau has some tips:

  • Avoid any firm that guarantees it can halt the foreclosure process. In the foreclosure prevention business, there are no guarantees.
  • Steer clear of any firm that tells you not to contact your lender, lawyer or credit or housing counselor. Firms that shell out that advice know those professionals will spot a scam right away and warn you.
  • Avoid any foreclosure prevention service that wants to charge a fee before helping, especially payments by cashier's check or a wire transfer.
  • Stay away from any firm that encourages you to lease your home so you can buy it back over time.
  • Reject any firm that recommends that you make your mortgage payments directly to it, rather than your lender.
  • Avoid a foreclosure firm that demands you transfer your property deed or title to it.

The U.S government offers a hotline for victims and potential victims of foreclosure scams at 1-888-995-HOPE.

There's really no reason to fall victim to foreclosure scams. With a decent amount of due diligence, spotting a fraud situation should be a no-brainer -- and a no-win situation for potential fraud artists looking to separate you from your money.