It's a case of fraud that hits so much harder in this poor economy. A woman whose job it was to help homeowners avoid foreclosure, ended up stealing from her clients.
“We didn’t have any kind of savings at that point… all of our savings was gone. So, I had my mother’s engagement and wedding ring, ” explained Pamela Hudson, a victim of the scheme.
The choice was emotional but Hudson decided to sell her deceased mother's rings rather than lose her home to foreclosure.
“I asked my father first… he said absolutely you need your house,” she said.
Hudson gave the money to a housing counselor, Lori Macakanja, who said she would use it for what's called a loan modification that would make Hudson's mortgage payments more affordable. But it didn't happen.
“In this case when the housing counselor got the money, instead of paying the mortgage to the lender on behalf of the client, she pocketed the money,” said US Postal Inspector Shelley Carosella.
Macakanja stole almost $300,000 from 136 clients.
“These victims often had hardships… either they were sick or they had a divorce, they lost their job and they could not afford the mortgage anymore,” said Carosella.
Hudson was one of those victims. She has Multiple Sclerosis. She was trying to find financial help when inspectors say she went to "Homefront," the non-profit agency where Mackanja was supposed to be assisting struggling homeowners.
“This was the letter that we took in to them… and brought us to being told our money was taken, and they were very sorry, and we said “aren’t you going to give it back to us” you took it,” Hudson questioned.
If you are seeking a change in your mortgage, here is what inspectors say you need to know:
- Always pay your lender directly, never to a house counselor
- Seek a HUD approved housing counseling agency for free help with loan modifications
- Work with your housing counselor to provide necessary documents and monitor your loan modification
Sadly, this advice is too late for Hudson.
“I lost the rings, I lost the money, and I’m losing my house,” she said.
Lori Macakanja is serving a 72-month jail sentence and is under court order to pay more than $290,000 in restitution to homeowners.
Florida's Attorney General offers tips to identify and avoid a potential foreclosure rescue scam:
- Avoid businesses that guarantee to save homes from foreclosure or stop the foreclosure process “no matter what the circumstances.”
- Do not work with businesses or individuals who instruct homeowners not to contact their lenders, lawyers or financial counselors and to make mortgage payments directly to the business or individual.
- Avoid businesses that use names or symbols which mimic federal and state programs or falsely suggest they offer legal services or are affiliated with an attorney or law firm.
- Before doing business with any loan modification business, check it out fully. Get its physical address, ask for the names of its corporate officers, and call the Attorney General’s Office to determine whether it has any complaints reported against it.
To file a complaint with Attorney General's office, go to myfloridalegal.com.