New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Tuesday introduced AGScamHelp, a new website where homeowners battling foreclosure can check and see whether a particular foreclosure rescue firm is licensed and legitimate.
The goal is to arm homeowners with a free tool they can use to avoid foreclosure rescue scams. Using the new website, homeowners can look up whether a group or individual offering legal assistance in retaining one's home has a government certification.
The new site also helps New Yorkers locate free, legitimate counseling services to get mortgage modifications and to report scammers.
In most foreclosure rescue scams, the perpetrator targets vulnerable homeowners and promises to save their homes by negotiating lower mortgage payments or principal reductions in exchange for an upfront fee. Very often, after the upfront fees are collected, the scammers disappear, but sometimes they perpetuate the scam by making false promises to homeowners for the purpose of collecting additional fees.
‘While my office is committed to cracking down on scam operations that target struggling New Yorkers, the most powerful tool against these frauds is to ensure that consumers are informed and aware of the free services that are available to them through our Homeowner Protection Program,’ Schneiderman says in a statement. ‘Through our new education initiative, we're putting facts in the hands of those who are at immediate risk of foreclosure – and at immediate risk of getting scammed. I encourage all homeowners to utilize AGScamHelp to check a company offering to help with your mortgage and report potential scams to our office in real time.’
Schneiderman made the announcement during a housing forum held at Brooklyn Law School. He was joined by Letitia James, a New York City public advocate, and Julie Menin, commissioner of the New York Department of Consumer Affairs.
‘As we continue to promote programs that keep homeowners in their homes, and help them exit foreclosure, we must ensure that we remain vigilant in identifying and rooting out scams perpetrated by fraudulent companies,’ James says in the statement. ‘[These] innovative measures â�¦ will protect homeowners at immediate risk of foreclosure, and help inform consumers about the growing threat of foreclosure rescue scams.’
Schneiderman's office is also mailing postcards with tips for avoiding con artists to homeowners in danger of foreclosure.
New Yorkers have been hit hard by the foreclosure rescue scam epidemic. According to a report by the Center For New York City Neighborhoods and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, from March 2010 to September 2014, homeowners in New York submitted more than 2,700 complaints about foreclosure rescue scams. During that period, the scams led to at least $8.25 million in losses, with an average loss per victim of about $4,183.