Garden City, NY - June 22, 2015 - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced a new statewide advertising campaign and consumer education initiative to help New York homeowners spot, avoid, and report mortgage rescue scams.
The advertisements will target homeowners in areas of the state hardest-hit by these scams, appearing on Nassau County buses, in community papers throughout the outer boroughs of New York City, and on social media in ZIP codes that have reported these scams most frequently. The ads will direct homeowners to AGScamHelp.com and the Homeowner Protection Program hotline at (855) 466-3456.
Mortgage rescue scams prey on homeowners who are in foreclosure or at-risk of foreclosure. Typically, they scammer will provide what seems like a lifeline out of foreclosure, but then will bilk the homeowner while providing little or no help.
“The most powerful tools to stop mortgage rescue scams are educated, vigilant homeowners,” said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “These scams are particularly pernicious because they take victims of the housing crash and make them victims again. My office will do all we can to ensure homeowners have the tools they need to protect themselves and we will continue to vigorously pursue scammers who target vulnerable homeowners.”
The advertising campaign is sponsored by the Homeowner Protection Program using funds from the National Mortgage Settlement, the $25 Billion Agreement between 49 State Attorneys General and the nation’s five largest Mortgage Servicers.
Nationwide, mortgage rescue scammers have conned $100 million from more than 42,000 homeowners, according to a December 2014 report by the Center for NYC Neighborhoods and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
As with the foreclosure crisis itself, New Yorkers have been hit particularly hard by the foreclosure rescue scam epidemic. New York homeowners have submitted over 2,700 foreclosure rescue scam complaints to the Lawyer Committee for Civil Rights, documenting at least $8.25 million in losses. New York homeowners trail only California and Florida in the number of complaints reported to the Loan Modification Scam Database.
On average, each New York victim of a foreclosure rescue scam reported a loss of $4,183 – about $900 more than the national average. Beyond the immediate losses, these scams often result in a domino effect that raises that dollar figure: Homeowners can end up losing tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars more because their homes fall into foreclosure as a direct result of the scam.
The announcement of the advertising campaign was made this morning at the Mitchel Field Bus Depot in Uniondale on Long Island. Attorney General Schneiderman was joined by Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano; Assemblymen Michael Montesano, Charles Lavine, and David McDonoug; County Legislators Denis Ford and Rose Marie Walker; and many housing advocacy organizations, including Center For New York City Neighborhoods and Empire Justice Center, who help oversee the Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP).
“This new statewide advertising campaign and consumer education initiative will go a long way in helping homeowners spot, avoid, and report mortgage rescue scams,” said Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano. “I thank Attorney General Schneiderman for tireless efforts to help those facing foreclosure and for assisting municipalities in combating the zombie home crisis.”
“It’s an unfortunate reality that countless New Yorkers are scammed by fraudulent companies who prey on vulnerable or unsuspecting homeowners,” said Assemblyman Michael Montesano. “I am hopeful that by raising awareness to this serious problem, we will be able to protect homeowners from traps set by scammers, while also pointing them in the direction of qualified and reliable companies. I applaud the Attorney General for spearheading this effort and look forward to working with his office, and other representatives to eradicate this threat from our communities.”
“Scammers have preyed on vulnerable local homeowners for too long,” said Assemblyman Charles Lavine. “Today’s announcement by Attorney General Schneiderman is a strong signal that scammers should stay far, far away from Long Island.”
“As the mortgage crisis continues to reverberate across Long Island and New York State, this statewide advertising campaign is an important step to educate homeowners about what to look for and how to protect themselves from mortgage rescue scams,”said Assemblyman David McDonough. “I strongly urge homeowners who have any questions or concerns about scams that are occurring to contact the Attorney General’s hotline number for more information.”
Anything we can do to make protecting the public more efficient and more effective is an important step," said Assemblyman Joseph Saladino. "We must do everything possible to prevent against mortgage fraud and the facilitators who attempt to take advantage of the public."
"The Center for New York City Neighborhoods applauds Attorney General Schneiderman for his leadership in combating foreclosure rescue scams, which steal millions of dollars from vulnerable New York families every year. Scammers prey on the desperation of those in danger of losing their homes, feeding them false promises that put their homes, their families, and their futures at even greater risk. This outreach and awareness campaign is critical to getting out in front of these despicable scammers, and we are committed to assisting the Attorney General in reaching homeowners before they become victims of a scam," said Christie Peale, Executive Director of the Center for New York City Neighborhoods.
Foreclosure rescue scammers target vulnerable homeowners and, for an upfront fee, generally promise to save their homes by negotiating lower mortgage payments or principal reductions with the homeowners’ mortgage servicers or lenders. After collecting upfront fees, these scam operations fail to provide the services promised, placing their victims at even greater risk of foreclosure.
Since many homeowners do not know about foreclosure scams, Attorney General Schneiderman’s new initiative aims to direct needed information to New Yorkers who are most at risk of being victimized, providing tips on how to avoid these scams and where to go for assistance.
The advertising campaign will reach the most vulnerable homeowners by targeting areas where modifications scams are most prevalent. The ads will run on 120 buses in Nassau County; in community papers including Mill Basin Marine Park Courier, Caribbean Life, Bronx Times and the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens editions of the New York Post; more than 150 spots on WBLS radio; and online targeted to most-impacted ZIP codes.
AGScamHelp is a web-based app that homeowners can easily access on their computers, smartphones and tablets. Users will also be directed to the app through the Attorney General’s HOPP website. AGScamHelp has several informational features:
- Search Government-Vetted Companies: AGScamHelp will allow consumers to search the name of an individual or company to determine if that entity is a “government-vetted” agency (that is, either a member of the Attorney General’s HOPP network or a HUD-certified counseling agency). If the company searched is not a government-vetted agency, the consumer will be told to proceed with caution and advised with several tips on how to identify signs of a foreclosure rescue scam.
- Locate Nearby Counseling Partners: The web-based app also features an interactive map that will allow a consumer to find the nearest Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP) grantee. The Attorney General has dedicated $100 million to fund HOPP, a network of more than 85 housing counseling and legal services agencies across the state that are dedicated to providing free assistance to New Yorkers.
- Report Scams: Consumers who have already been contacted by or are in the process of working with a company suspected of operating a foreclosure rescue scam will also have the option to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office. They will be directed to a separate page where they can complete a complaint form online. All complaints will be directed to the Attorney General’s Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau, and will be mediated by the Attorney General’s Office.
- Get Tips: AGScamHelp offers details on how to recognize signs of a foreclosure rescue scam, including samples of scam letters and other resources utilized by fraudsters to target homeowners, and provides information about recent foreclosure scams that have been the subject of enforcement actions brought by the Attorney General’s Office and other law enforcement agencies.
Since October 2012, the Homeowner Protection Program has served 43,000 homeowners statewide, including almost 12,000 on Long Island.