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Kevin Hunt - The Bottom Line
The Bottom Line
6:51 PM EST, December 3, 2012
Unsolicited letters, email and telephone calls are almost always best left unanswered. Let them go and they'll never amount to more than a nuisance.
Answer one, as Mari Merwin of New Britain did, and you're asking for trouble. Merwin's troubles started with a letter from an official-sounding group called Mortgage Auditing Program, Division of Consumer Services, that offered to analyze her mortgage.
Any "mortgage audit" that proposes to prevent a foreclosure or find errors in mortgage payments and a possible refund is a scam. In mid-May, though, Merwin agreed to pay $299 that would be refunded "if my mortgage payment was not miscalculated."
Merwin received a "recipient case" number, then followed the Mortgage Auditing Program's instructions:
>> She asked her mortgage company to fax documents in late May to "Consumer Home Services." In mid-July, a phone message indicated the documents were received and the audit started.
>> When she didn't hear back from the company, she called a toll-free number in early October. A recorded message assured her all audits would be processed by Oct. 15. "The results," the recording promised, "will be notified by email or phone."
>> When she received neither an email or phone call, she emailed at the end of the month and received this automated response: "We will be contacting you shortly."
But there was no contact and no refund of her "risk-free" $299 charge.
"Will you please tell me if I was scammed for $299?" she asked after contacting The Bottom Line in November.
She probably saw it coming: Yes, it's a scam. The company behind it, AMT Auditing Services of American Fork, Utah, is no longer in business.
In March, he Utah Division of Consumer Protection cited AMT for failing to register for a telemarketer solicitation permit and an alleged violation of failing to fulfill a refund request within the designated three-day right to cancel. In April, it paid a $7,500 fine and agreed to stop telemarketing and telephone solicitations into or from Utah without a valid permit. It also agreed to refund any consumer who filed a complaint with the state Division of Consumer Protection.
AMT said it would "assist" any customer with any claim of a "rebate" through the end of September. Sounds as if it's too late for Merwin.
But how could she have known? She could have researched the toll-free number by plugging into the search window at http://www.800notes.com, a database with a user-generated "directory of unknown callers." She would have found pages of complaints and the owner of the toll-free number, AMT Auditing Services, and link to its Better Business Bureau review.
The BBB documented the complaints (349) , the state's action against it and the notification that the business had closed.
"There may be legitimate reasons why a homeowner would seek a mortgage audit," says the Connecticut BBB's Howard Schwartz, "including wanting to know if their interest is properly calculated, their property is in danger of being foreclosed because of an error or because they have made extra principle payments and are not certain whether they have actually been applied to pay down the principal. Many of these questions can be answered by the mortgage holder. It is a different matter when a homeowner receives an unsolicited offer for these services."
The Federal Trade Commission, in a consumer alert earlier this year, warned that forensic loan audits are essentially useless, "even if they're conducted by a licensed, legitimate and trained auditor, mortgage professional or lawyer."
If you find an error in your loan documents, federal law allows you to sue your lender. But, says the FTC, even if you win the suit the lender is not obligated to modify your loan with lower monthly payments.
Avoid any business, says the FTC, that:
>> guarantees to stop a foreclosure process.
>> advises you not to contact your lender, lawyer or credit/housing counselor.
>> charges a fee for services by cashier's check or wire transfer.
>> suggests you send mortgage payments directly to the company instead of the lender.
>> wants you to transfer your property deed or title.
>> wants to buy your property at a below-market rate.
If you think you're dealing with a scammer visit the FTC's website (ww.ftc.gov) or call its Consumer Response Center (1-877-382-4357). Or call the state attorney general's office at 860-808-5400.
But don't ever let it get that far. Let every unsolicited letter, email and telephone call go unanswered.
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