“Smart Scammers” Make Mortgage Mod Fraud Convincing

FTC says it's one of the most common problem facing homeowners.

Losing an arm to childhood cancer, Rick Hawthorne has made his life mission to help others.

"I always knew there was a reason why it happened," he said.

For four decades his business, Valley View Vaulting in Lakeview Terrace, has trained children to overcome fears and challenges through a recreation known as "equestrian vaulting" -- gymnastics meets animal therapy.

"It gives them an opportunity to do things that they never thought they'd be able to do," he said.

But the economic downturn threatened Hawthorne's mission.

Needing cash, a phone call from a company he thought was a mortgage broker offering to refinance his home sounded like a prayer answered.

"It seemed very real to us at the time," he said.

It wasn't until months later and almost $18,000 spent that Hawthorne learned there was no mortgage modification program. None of his money would be going to the bank.

Now he could lose his home and business.

"No matter how much people say, 'You didn't know, it's not your fault,' it's always there that I was responsible," he said.

The FTC's Jonathan Cohen said it's one of the biggest scams homeowners are dealing with today.

"Individuals who are involved with scams like this one learn the trade," said Cohen, an attorney for the Bureau of Consumer Protection's Division of Enforcement.

Cohen said smart scammers change business names and stay ahead of law enforcement, which means consumers need to do their research.

"The most important thing to do is never to send your mortgage payment to any address other than the one on your mortgage statement," Cohen said.

There are government programs and legitimate nonprofits that will help homeowners struggling to save their homes, but consumers should always be wary of anyone asking for money in advance for providing a loan modification.

Hawthorne said the company he paid also took money from others.

"He's done it to many people," he said. "And he's got to stop."

Not knowing if he'll be able to keep Valley View Vaulting afloat, Hawthorne's turned to a GoFundMe campaign if he's to continue changing the lives of the children who need him.

"What we do here, who we work with, is my whole life," he said. "It's why I'm on earth."

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