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Every day, more and more families throughout our region lose their homes because they have lost their job, or can’t afford unexpectedly larger mortgage payments. As unemployment increases, adjustable rate mortgages re-set and property values fall, homeowners at all ends of the economic spectrum find themselves facing the prospect of foreclosure. In Montgomery County alone more than 41,000 homes have been foreclosed in the last ten years, burdening neighborhoods and local governments with vacant properties that invite crime and lower property values even further.In response to the crisis that is threatening our neighborhoods and cities, ThinkTV , in partnership with WYSO, is launching Facing the Mortgage Crisis, a community engagement initiative designed to connect area residents to trusted foreclosure prevention resources. Building on their role as public media organizations, ThinkTV and WYSO are working with a variety of community service organizations to connect those in need with those who can help. Commercial media partners, including the Dayton Daily News, WHIO Channel 7 and Cox Radio will help tell the story of the mortgage crisis and reach the broadest possible audience.Facing the Mortgage Crisis launches June 15. Every day through August, ThinkTV will broadcast a series of 10 informative on-air spots, each one answering the questions most frequently asked by homeowners, such as, “Am I in danger of losing my home?” and “Can I get money to help make a payment?” The spots will feature United Way’s HelpLink 2-1-1 as the number to call for assistance.In July, ThinkTV and WHIO-TV will simulcast an hour-long special, also called Facing the Mortgage Crisis. The program explores the issues closest to homeowners who are threatened with foreclosure, including how to negotiate with the lender if you’re in danger of missing payments, how to handle phone calls and notices from lenders, how to keep track of pertinent paperwork, and when to seek assistance. During the second half-hour of the program experts will respond to viewer calls and e-mail. E-mailed questions may be submitted in advance at mortgage@thinktv.org. The program will also be rebroadcast on ThinkTV 16, as well as digital channels. In the weeks leading up to the broadcast, Cox Radio will air news reports and features.ThinkTV’s public media partner WYSO will produce and broadcast Public Service Announcements in June and July. WYSO will also produce in-depth news features about the mortgage crisis in the Miami Valley. The news reports will air within the NPR programs “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”Three live call-in programs are scheduled for three Thursdays in July. The first will be on July 16th at 7pm following the popular business program Marketplace. An expert panel will answer questions relating to the issues of foreclosure, mortgage financing, scams to look out for and the agencies available in the local area for help. Advance emails may be submitted to news@wyso.org, subject line “mortgage.”Web content will support and reinforce broadcast efforts and will provide listeners with a forum for ideas, comments and feedback.In order to inform WYSO’s reporting and planning, community partner meetings will be held. The date of the first meeting was Tuesday, June 2nd, at the WYSO studios in Yellow Springs.Together, WYSO, WHIO-TV, Cox Radio and ThinkTV will provide a coordinated broadcast effort, supported by on-line resources and community events.The Dayton Daily News, in collaboration with ThinkTV and WYSO will host the project’s culminating event: a panel discussion that explores the local impact of the mortgage crisis. The panel, to be scheduled in August, will be hosted by Dayton Daily News Editor Kevin Riley and made available for streaming on partner web sites.Additional resources will be found on ThinkTV’s Facing the Mortgage Crisis Web site at www.thinktv.org.

Foreclosure Scams

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.

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