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IMPACT! Group highlights warning signs of loan modification scams

As part of its effort to preserve homeownership for more working families in Gwinnett County and metro Atlanta, The IMPACT! Group wants to remind homeowners of the warning signs of a loan modification scam and where to report scam artists, during National Homeownership Month.

Because millions of homeowners nationwide have worked hard to achieve homeownership, every effort must be made to inform struggling homeowners about scam artists. These unscrupulous companies or individuals promise to help homeowners save their home, but in fact take their money for doing nothing, or worse, take their home.

"Loan modification scam artists are relentless. They will use every trick in the book to prey upon homeowners. Because loan modification scams aren't always easy to spot, we wanted to remind Gwinnett residents about the warning signs so they can avoid getting scammed, and avoid losing their money, or losing their homes," said Tom Merkel, President, of The IMPACT! Group.

The warning signs include:

* A company/person asks for a fee in advance to work with your lender to modify, refinance or reinstate your mortgage. They may pocket your money and do little or nothing to help you save your home from foreclosure.

* A company/person advises you to stop paying your mortgage company and pay them instead. Despite what a scammer will tell you, you should never send a mortgage payment to anyone other than your mortgage lender. The minute you have trouble making your monthly payment, contact your mortgage lender.

* A company/person guarantees they can stop a foreclosure or get your loan modified. Nobody can make this guarantee to stop foreclosure or modify your loan. Legitimate, trustworthy HUD-approved counseling agencies will only promise they will try their very best to help you.

* A company claims to offer "government-approved" or "official government" loan modifications. They may be scam artists posing as legitimate organizations approved by, or affiliated with, the government. Contact your mortgage lender first. Your lender can tell you whether you qualify for any government programs to prevent foreclosure. And, remember, you do not have to pay to benefit from government-backed loan modification programs.

If you or someone you know has been scammed, please take action and report the scam and scam artist to the following resources:

* Call the Homeowner's Hope Hotline: 1-888-995-HOPE (4673) Assistance is available in 20 languages upon request.

* File a complaint online through the Loan Scam Prevention Network. Submit an online complaint form in English, Spanish, Korean or Chinese via www.loanscamalert.org.

* Call the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or submit your complaint online in English or in Spanish.

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* Contact [insert State Attorney General's and contact information].

June is National Homeownership Month. Throughout the month, The IMPACT! Group is highlighting the important role that informed, prepared and engaged residents play in healthy communities through long-term, affordable homeownership.

Tom Merkel is president and CEO of The IMPACT! group.