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New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has announced his office’s new consumer education initiative, which features a Web-based app, AGScamHelp, an app to help homeowners determine whether a company has been vetted by a government agency and will urge homeowners at risk of foreclosure to work with a qualified agency within the Attorney General’s Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP), a network of more than 85 housing counseling and legal service providers who offer services to struggling homeowners at no cost. As part of this new initiative, the Attorney General’s Office will also send monthly mailings with tips on avoiding foreclosure scams to New York homeowners who are within 90 days of a potential foreclosure filing.
The announcement was made at a housing forum held at Brooklyn Law School. Attorney General Schneiderman was joined by New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, New York Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Julie Menin and housing advocacy organizations, including HOPP anchor partner, the Center For New York City Neighborhoods, which is assisting the Attorney General’s consumer education initiative.
“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,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “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.”
New Yorkers have been hit particuarly hard by the foreclosure rescue scam epidemic. According toa new report by the Center For New York City Neighborhoods and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, from March 2010 to September 2014, New York homeowners have submitted over 2,700 foreclosure rescue scam complaints, which documented 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. However, these scams often result in a domino effort 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.
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 HOPP Partners: The Web-based app also features an interactive map that will allow a consumer to find the nearest 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.