Over the past years working with foreclosure victims, it is always amazing to see the complete incompetence of mortgage lenders. When working with these homeowners, foreclosure case workers or loss mitigation representatives go to nearly any lengths to avoid helping their clients. It seems they do anything possible in order to delay a resolution, instead allowing the home to get dangerously close to the sheriff sale before turning down the workout program entirely.
In cases where the homeowners are facing the loss of their homes due to negligence or fraud on the part of the lender, the incompetence is especially frustrating. Our observations over years have alerted us to a few of the various ways that banks push paying customers into foreclosure in order to steal the home and extract the largest profit possible at the expense of the homeowners. This type of scam is mostly perpetrated by servicing companies and operates in several ways, all of which we have witnessed numerous times.
Homeowners in these and similar situations may feel as if they are the only ones caught up in some kind of Kafkaesque debacle. The lenders play the part very well through their own genuine incompetence at the customer service level. Remaining on hold for three hours a day just to confirm that a fax has been received (when it had not been received any of the previous three times it was sent) is a simple tactic resulting from understaffed loss mitigation departments and increasing foreclosures. But more and more experience and research shows us that these are not isolated events, but carefully planned manipulations of mortgages, resulting in forced foreclosures.
Possibly the most common scam that we have witnessed is when the lender places a forced insurance policy on a property. They claim they have not received proof of insurance and then force the owners to pay extra every month for the policy. Often, they place the insurance without informing the homeowners, who make their regular monthly payment, which is first applied to the policy and then to interest and principal. This makes them late on the bill even though they are paying on time every month. Faxes to the lender of proof of insurance will not convince them, if they confirm receiving the documents at all. Homeowners may only learn of the insurance policy when they are being sued for foreclosure, and assume that a horrible mistake had been made.
Another way that mortgage servicing companies push properties into foreclosure is by paying the property taxes late and charging the late fees to the homeowners' account. The next payment the homeowners make will be applied to the taxes and late fees, while the principal and interest will be partially late. Again, the foreclosure victims may not realize the scam until they are being sued and their home is scheduled to be sold at a county auction. Even then, they may have little idea of how to defend themselves in court against a company with thousands of successful foreclosures behind it who has hired local attorneys that specialize in such cases. The loss of the home may be all but guaranteed at this point.
These are the two most common ways, in our experience, that servicing companies have been known to force homeowners into foreclosure. The deviousness of the scam, combined with the bureaucratic inefficiency of many of these companies, often create the impression that errors have been made that can be corrected, as long as the homeowners can talk to someone, explain what happened, and straighten out the mess. Unfortunately, customer service centers may be specifically designed to delay the homeowners as long as possible, leading them to believe they are working out a solution, while the attorneys proceed ever more quickly to the foreclosure auction.
Even more unfortunate is the fact that homeowners have little alternative when they become a victim of this scam. Once they are behind in payments or in foreclosure, the servicing company will make absolutely sure that the balance due on the loan strips the property of its equity. This also dramatically decreases the chance of qualifying for a foreclosure loan or other solution, and increases the amount necessary to begin a repayment plan with the company. A house with little equity can not even be sold quickly enough to ensure that there will be any equity by the closing. The servicing fraud scam is one of the most disturbing in the industry, and one every homeowner should be aware of, because the power of the perpetrators so outweigh the victims in terms of money, legal expertise, and previous successful cases.