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Hundreds of people calling themselves "foreclosure rescue specialists," promising to quickly cut through red tape and reduce mortgage payments, have taken millions of dollars from South Florida homeowners over the past year for their services.But unlike mortgage brokers or real-estate agents, mortgage modifiers are not required to have any special training or even a license - something many consumers don't know.That has contributed to a dramatic rise in the number of struggling homeowners complaining they paid thousands to foreclosure loan modification or foreclosure rescue outfits, but received little or no help in return, state regulators say.The Florida Attorney General's Office has received about 16,127 calls or complaints about mortgage modification from March through Aug24, state records showThe agency currently has filed 15 civil lawsuits against these operations, is actively investigating 83 statewide and has 99 additional companies under review.Susan Spurgen, a Tampa attorney who specializes in real estate litigation, was surprised to learn the troubled industry that quickly sprung up in the wake of the sub-prime mortgage fiasco is largely unregulated."It's sad, given that you want only licensed professionals who know what they are doing taking money from people," said Spurgen, who gave a Florida Bar seminar on modification earlier this year.Homeowners will have more protection beginning Jan1That's when a new law passed by the Legislature this year will require all unlicensed modifiers, loan originators and mortgage lenders to get a broker's license through the state's Office of Financial Regulation.The statute, which brings state laws in line with the 2008 federal mortgage licensing act, also requires brokers to renew their licenses annually instead of every other year, go through a background check, have 24 hours of training and pass a written examBeginning in 2011, they also must be listed in a nationwide registry that will include employment histories and disciplinary actions from all statesvar adSkipCounter = 0; Officials with the Attorney General's Office, saying the new requirements should help weed out questionable operators, supported the lawSo did the Florida Association of Mortgage Brokers."We are hoping that by requiring licensure, it will hold people accountable," said association president Valerie Saunders.Until licensing becomes law, consumer advocates and regulators advise homeowners to steer clear of modification companies asking for money up front - something prohibited under the 2008 state Foreclosure Rescue ActThe 2009 law narrowed the exemption allowing attorneys to collect advance fees, stating as of July 1 it applied only to those handling modifications as "ancillary" work connected with other cases, such as bankruptcies."If someone asks you for money prior to completion of work, they are breaking the law," said State RepRitch Workman, R-Melbourne, a mortgage banker who worked on this year's billEven taking post-dated checks or credit card numbers, to be charged later, is not allowed.In the past 15 months, hundreds of foreclosure rescue and modification firms have cropped up in the state, Saunders saidWhile homeowners can try renegotiating their loans themselves, "it's extremely paper intensive and it's complicated," Saunders said.And slowThe Treasury Department reported this month that eligible homeowners going through the federal Making Home Affordable program - designed to encourage lenders to renegotiate loans with struggling homeowners - can't get modifications approved by their lenders or mortgage serversOnly 9 percent received loan reductionsThe White House has called on servers to start on at least 500,000 modifications by Nov1.Workman predicts the licensure provisions will drive out some of the bad actors and encourage legitimate foreclosure operations to consolidateHe suspects it also may make it harder for homeowners with bad credit to get approved for modifications or that they'll be charged higher fees."The sub-prime model was that everyone was entitled to a mortgageWe don't need that same model for loan modification," Workman said.Diane Lade can be reached at dlade@sunsentinel.com, or 954-356-4295 or 561-243-6618.INFORMATIONAL BOX:Mortgage modificationsHere is how mortgage modification works, and what to watch out for, according to JReilly Dolan, assistant director of financial practices for the Federal Trade Commission, and other experts.How it works: Mortgage modification companies usually work with homeowners who want to lower mortgage paymentsForeclosure rescue operations usually deal with homeowners nearing foreclosure or already in itThey both solicit customers through ads, mailings, calls or e-mails.How it can go wrong: Some unscrupulous businesses are "in essence, boiler rooms," Dolan saidThey have huge sales staffs that make inflated claims.Dolan said some operations take the client's money with no intention of doing the work, then shut down and vanish after several months.What you can do:First try negotiating with your lender on your own.To get help from federally certified counselors, call 888-995-4673 or see 995hope.org.To file a complaint about a foreclosure rescue company: Call the Florida Attorney General's Office at 866-966-7226 or see myfloridalegal.com/mortgagefraud.- Diane CLade window._taboola = window._taboola || []; _taboola.push({ mode: 'thumbnails-f', container: 'taboola-below-article-thumbnails---archives', placement: 'Below Article Thumbnails - Archives', target_type: 'mix' }); MORE:Can Bosh, Wade break out of their funk?Do nicknames on jerseys go against Heat "sacrifice" mantra?Does Wade retain edge on Stephenson?Do Heat appreciate magnitude of Game 5?Could Heat find value in NBA free agency?Would Heat give Peace a chance? if(navigator.userAgent.indexOf("MSIE") >= 0){ setTimeout(function() { //Fixed IE issue- Ref Bug 17996 var openxframe= frames["openxi-339767"].document; openxframe.open(); openxframe.write('if (!window.OX_ads) { OX_ads = []; } OX_ads.push({ "auid" : "339767" });'); window.openxframe.close();; },200); }else{ var openxframe= frames["openxi-339767"].document; openxframe.open(); openxframe.write('if (!window.OX_ads) { OX_ads = []; } OX_ads.push({ "auid" : "339767" });'); window.openxframe.close();; } Related ArticlesInc500 company doing mortgage modifications without...March 30, 2011Florida regulators receiving new complaints about mortgage...January 22, 2011Home Loan Modification Firms And Lawyers ScrutinizedAugust 23, 2009To Pay Or Not To Pay UpfrontSeptember 28, 2009Find More Stories AboutMortgage ModificationIndex by Keyword|Index by Date|Privacy Policy|

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