December 1, 2011 –Washington, DC – Starting today, some homeowners whose home is worth less than their mortgage can refinance under the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), however; the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning consumers that banks and mortgage companies aren’t the only ones gearing up for the rush of applications.
“Whenever there is a new or updated government program that may be a bit confusing, scammers come out of the woodwork to take advantage of that confusion,” said Edward Johnson, President & CEO of the local BBB. “There are already hundreds of websites claiming to be able to help homeowners through the HARP process, but many of them are rip-offs and scams.” In addition to the bogus web sites, the BBB warns consumers to be on the guard for scam offers that come by way of direct mail, email and telemarketing.
The BBB is warning all homeowners who are thinking of applying for a HARP refinance to:
- Deal directly with your lender first and never make payments to anyone other than your lender.
- Don’t pay upfront fees to anyone who promises to provide counseling, take care of the paperwork for you, or stop the foreclosure process.
- Be wary of anyone who tells you not to contact your lender, a lawyer or a credit counselor, or who asks for payment by cashier’s check or wire transfer.
- Never sign over your deed to anyone, or allow yourself to be pressured into signing something you don’t understand.
- Be especially careful of look-alike and sound-alike websites.
- Find out if you qualify by going to www.makinghomeaffordable.gov/programs/lower-rates/Pages/harp.aspx or by calling the Homeowner’s HOPE Hotline at 1-888-995-HOPE (4673) to speak to a HUD-approved housing counselor for free.
- Report scams to the BBB and the FTC.
The changes to the HARP program were announced by President Obama in October to allow homeowners to refinance at lower interest rates, even if their home is currently worth less than their mortgage (also know as being “under water”). The new HARP rules apply to homeowners who are current on their payments and whose loans are backed by either FannieMae or FreddieMac. Some lenders will begin accepting applications as early as today, although many will take a few weeks or even a few months to roll out the program. More than one million borrowers are expected to apply for the program, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees the two major mortgage lending programs.