Inspectors are warning about con-artists claiming they can offer you a low-interest mortgage refinance but in the end, sign you up for a rate much higher than the market.
"They made a tremendous offer, and at first I thought 'too good to be true,'" said victim Nerida Cuccia.
Cuccia happened to be in the market to refinance her mortgage. Ricardo White, the voice on the phone, said he could offer her a 3.25% fixed interest rate the first year and 5% fixed for the remainder of the loan.
Cuccia told White she was interested, but she also told him his tone made her hesitant.
She explained, "You're so high pressure; you sound a little bit like you're forcing me into something."
White quickly apologized and because of the attractive rates, Cuccia decided to proceed with the refinancing.
"People get pulled in by the numbers and then they get… in the end… pay a high price," she said.
"They would misrepresent the terms of the loans to induce the consumers into refinancing," explained US Postal Inspector John Marsh. "The homeowners unwittingly got a very high adjustable rate mortgage and the fraudsters got a nice commission."
Postal inspectors began tracking the case and found it was a classic "bait and switch" scam at closing.
"They will have you sign documents that say 2.25 or 3.25% fixed. But that is not true, that is a fraud," warned Marsh.
at the same time, they will have you sign more documents for the actual mortgage they plan to submit to banks, with much higher rates. In Cuccia's case, she was promised 3.25%. In reality, she signed a loan that started at 8% the first year and would go as high as 15%.
"The documents they leave with you in no way shape or form will tell you what the terms of the loan are," said Marsh.
Inspectors say this is done by design and is at the heart of the scam.
"They don't want you to realize you have been hoodwinked and cancel the loan in three days, which is the standard practice with loans," said Marsh.
Cuccia's closing with White was held in her home.
"I felt like somebody walked into my house and robbed me blind," she said.
Postal inspectors say White along with the ring leader, Gregory Cooper, scammed more than 50 victims out of more than $2 million.
Cuccia said, "That somebody could be that, evil, for what, a dollar, it's insane."
She was able to refinance again, but lost more than $20,000 in closing costs for both transactions.
"To be able to face Mr. White in court and tell him how I felt nothing could ever, the money, nothing was as important as being able to look at his face once more and know he was going to jail," said Cuccia.
Ricardo White was sentenced to 9 years in prison and the scam's ring leader, Gregory Cooper is in jail for 17 years and owes more than $2 million in restitution.
Meantime, postal inspectors say if you are in the market to refinance always do your homework and reach out to reputable financial institutions. And, you should never feel pressured to sign papers that you can not read and evaluate at the time of closing.
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