Foreclosure Prevention Gone Awry?

The ink on President Barack Obama’s massive stimulus plan hadn’t dried before spurious Websites sprouted up promising to get Americans a piece of the billion dollar pie. As if that isn’t enough, some sly foxes set their sights on Obama’s new foreclosure prevention plan, bilking homeowners teetering on the verge of losing their houses.

Loan modification usually allows borrowers to reduce their interest on their loan, extend the length of the loan, offer a completely new loan, or some combination of the three. Since the cost of modifying a loan can be less than the cost of defaulting, this method can be mutually beneficial.

Unfortunately, companies are taking advantage of vulnerable homeowners. The Federal Trade Commission has filed complaints against Calif.-based Federal Loan Modification Law Center LLP, and, as well as Florida-based Home Assure LLC, and 68 other companies for fraud. Bill Anz, founding partner of Federal Loan Modification Law Center, defended his operation in an interview with the Associated Press. Anz said he will offer a refund to anyone who doesn’t get a modification. So far about 20% of the company’s 5,000 customers have received a modification, he said, with more in the works. “People might not like it,” Anz told AP, but “realistically, the problem is so large that the private sector must step in.”

The companies charge $1,000 to $3,000 in up-front fees that the FTC says legitimate nonprofit organizations don’t charge. After collecting the fees, many do little or northing to help consumers.

To combat these ill-intentioned reprobates, the FTC has joined forces with the Justice , Treasury and Housing and Urban Development departments (or as I like to call them, the Justice League). As part of the multi-agency effort, the justice department has more than doubled the number of agents investigating mortgage scams, and created a National Mortgage Fraud Team. The efforts come on the heels of Obama’s Making Home Affordable plan, announced in February , aimed at keeping up to nine million Americans in their homes by lowering monthly mortgage payments.

“American homeowners desperately need the relief this program offers, but the very last thing they need is to be taken advantage of as they try to hold on to their homes. This administration is deeply committed not just to providing at-risk homeowners with assistance but also to cracking down on anyone who seeks to defraud them,” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said earlier this month.