PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — All across the country people are tightening their belts. For homeowners with high interest rates, mounting bills, or uncertain jobs, lowering a monthly mortgage payment can be a big help. But while looking to save, some say they were scammed. 3 On Your Side Consumer Reporter Jim Donovan tells us about a group of friends whose mortgage rescue turned into a mortgage mess.
They are four friends from church who thought they had found a great way to lower their mortgage payments. Lori Riegler says, “They told me that they would get me a four to six hundred reduction.” While Carol Griffiths says, “My mortgage would probably be cut in half.”
Each of the four women paid upfront fees of two thousand dollars or more to a company called Mortgage Foreclosure Experts to negotiate lower mortgage payments with their banks. Riegler says, “I did everything they said they needed me to do, and they completely ignored me.”
The four women say they were either denied loan modifications by their banks or say they were offered payments that weren’t much better than they already had. According to Jeanie Fuhrmeister, “He said I can guarantee you, you’ll be paying five to six hundred dollars less.” But she says her bank only offered to reduce her monthly mortgage by about seventy five dollars a month from what she was originally paying.
Mortgage Foreclosure Experts guarantees refunds if clients don’t accept the modifications they’re offered. Yet when the four women asked for their money back, Riegler says, “I never heard from them.” While Griffiths says, “There has to be so many others out there. There has to be.”
In Pennsylvania the Department of Banking has filed a cease and desist order against Mortgage Foreclosure Experts claiming the company collected over eighty five thousand dollars in advance fees from 30 consumers without having a license.
New Jersey has fined the company five thousand dollars and has ordered it to return almost ten thousand dollars to customers. New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance Commissioner Tom Considine says, “In order to be a debt adjustor in New Jersey you must be licensed.””They are not licensed here and as a matter of fact, the fact that they weren’t licensed is what lead to our Division of Consumer Affairs to bring some action against them.”
Mortgage Foreclosure Experts operated out of Cherry Hill but without warning disappeared. Fuhrmeister says, “I said where are you? She said we’re not at liberty to tell you right now.” But 3 On Your Side tracked the company down to a building in Bensalem, where lists of clients and the fees they paid were visible on the walls.
After Mortgage Foreclosure Experts failed to return our repeated phone calls, we paid them a visit to find out why the women were having problems obtaining their refunds. While he would not agree to speak on-camera, Marco Ferreia with Mortgage Foreclosure Experts promised us that the women would get full refunds and soon afterwards they did. The were given checks which amounted to $8,700 combined. Griffiths says, “I was told that it would be a cold day in hell before I got my money back. So thank you. I’m very happy.”
The company could never give us a clear answer as to why the women didn’t get refunds until after we had made our surprise visit. An attorney representing Mortgage Foreclosure Experts tells us that company believed they were operating properly within the confines of the law. They say they have voluntarily ceased doing any new business and are working with the banking authorities to address concerns about their operation.
Reported by Jim Donovan, CBS 3