As home foreclosures rise, so do the number of people trying to take advantage of those in a bad situation. More and more, scams are popping up across Ohio. In May, the Attorney General's office launched a crackdown on the shady practices. WYSO's Emily McCord reports on the on-going effort.
Larry Bisping is one of those people who doesn't really wear his heart on his sleeve. He talks about losing his home that he's lived in for 9 years, or the fact that it's been hard for him to find work, or that he may have to file bankruptcy, and he stays pretty even. But when the subject turned to his eight year old daughter, Marisa, his striking blue eyes well up.
"I just can't picture myself telling her that I've got move out. I just can't picture that. It's all she knows is this house," says Bisping.
Bisping says that house is his daughter's more than his own, and that's why he fighting to keep it. When manufacturing work started to dry up, he had trouble paying his mortgage, he wasn't able get help from the bank and didn't know whom to call.
"That's why when I saw Twenty First Century, I figured it was a good thing to do and it didn't turn out that way," says Bisping.
Twenty First Century Legal Services is the name of a California based company that offers loan remodifications. Bisping called them, they sent someone out with papers for him to sign, and he gave them three checks totaling about $2,100. They advised him not pay his mortgage in the meantime. After a couple of weeks went by, he hadn't heard anything and started to get nervous. So he gave a Twenty First Century a call.
"And she said, 'how can we help you' and I said 'well you haven't yet' and she said 'oh, one of them calls' and she pushed me off to someone else. Then somebody else came on the line and I told them the situation and I asked them for my money back. And they said 'well, we'll contact finance and we'll have them get a hold of you'," says Bisping.
Bisping didn't hear from Twenty First Century after that. He contacted a lawyer, who is helping him keep his home, but says it's unlikely Bisping will get his money back.
"It's Getting Worse"
A commercial on Twenty First Century's website advises to "act fast, before it's too late". According to Ohio Attorney General, Richard Cordray, it's exactly the kind of message that scammers want consumers to hear.
"A lot of these people are pretty desperate because they're behind on their mortgages. They're in danger of losing their homes. They believe that these people will help them. Then people get roped in and start paying them money and they then they find that they're not really doing any of the things they said," says Cordray.
That's why Cordray's office has been working to get these businesses out of Ohio. The Attorney General's office has issued cease and desist orders to Twenty First Century and two dozen other similar companies. Cordray says the scams are getting worse.
"I can tell you that two years ago, it was not a problem at all in Ohio. Now that we're in the middle of this foreclosure crisis and the predators know that people are desperate, they have decided this is a money making proposition for them to offer services, seek payments up front and then not deliver," says Cordray.
Cordray says Twenty First Century has systematically failed to deliver. Over the course of three days, I left messages with the company, got passed around, got hung up and finally got the name of the lawyer representing the firm. Muhammad Nehmeh was willing to talk to me on the record, but not on tape. Basically, he says that loan modifications take time, and that can frustrate customers. He says Twenty First Centuryhas broken no laws.
Whether or not Twenty First Centurya cted legally will be worked out in court. But the Attorney General's office hopes others will come forward anytime they feel they've been a victim of a mortgage refinance scam.
"We always assume that if we get a call, there's probably ten to fifty other people who either didn't know to call us, or didn't think it was worthwhile, and already lost hope," says Cordray.
"That's What The Companies Want"
Even though Larry Bisping hasn't lost hope, he's not jumping to take legal action against 21st Century, either. He's not part of the Attorney General's investigation. Right now, he's more concerned about keeping his home.
"That could be more money out of my pocket. There's a fine line of what you want to do. I think that's what the company's want. You don't have the money to pursue this, so you don't know what's going to happen," says Bisping.
Bisping's family is depending on him, and he leans on them, too. His daughter, Marissa, even offered to give him money from her piggy bank. She'd earned it running a Kool Aid stand. He didn't take it, but her support does give him some comfort as he waits to find out if he can stay in his home.