According to the Detroit Free Press a mortgage fraudster was recently sentenced to 30 to 99 years and ordered to pay $400,000 in restitution for a "faith-based" mortgage assistance scam that was marketed through Christian networks and ministries. According to court documents, the fraudster through his company, Freedom by Faith Ministries, promised to keep distressed borrowers out of foreclosure in exchange for a fee. According to prosecutors, from 2009 to 2013 the group collected money but didn't do anything for the borrowers.
What made this story different was the way the fraudster focused on his victims' Christian faith to win their trust and take their money. In recent years we've seen a number of fraudsters work their trade by exploiting members of a community they belong to, or pretend to belong to. The idea behind "affinity fraud" is to exploit the baseline trust that generally exists within an "affinity group" – i.e. a group defined by a common heritage, language, ethnicity, workplace, or circle of friends. What happened in Detroit is a sad reminder that no group is inherently safe from fraudsters, including devout and religious people.
It also reinforces the importance of these basic steps for distressed borrowers who need help with their mortgage and want to avoid fraud:
- Call your mortgage servicer –only your servicer can modify your mortgage or finalize a plan to avoid foreclosure. Visit Freddie Mac's Mortgage Resource Center or MakingHomeAffordable.gov to learn about your options.
- For reliable advice before you call your servicer, call 1-888-995-HOPE or seek free assistance from a HUD approved counselor.
- Doubt anyone who promises to stop a foreclosure for an upfront fee or offers
- Doubt anyone who promises to pay your mortgage and rent your house back to you if you give them title to your home.
- Don't sign documents (like a Quit Claim Deed) that transfer the title to your home to anyone. Genuine mortgage workouts do not require you to transfer title
- Don't sign documents with errors or blank spaces.
- Don't sign documents you don't understand or aren't sure about.
- Contact Freddie Mac to report suspected fraud at (800) 4FRAUD8 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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