HARP Extension: Beware of Scams

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – If you're having trouble paying your mortgage, there may be some relief. The Federal Government is extending the deadline for a refinancing program. It's called HARP or Home Affordable Refinance Program. While it's a valuable program, experts warn that crooks are looking to take advantage of homeowners.

Iva Brown, with Housing Opportunities Made Equal in Richmond says the extension of HARP could be a life saver.

"It's for those people that are on the edge. Any life event could just push them into default," she said.

The government has extended the program until the end of 2012.

The goal is to help homeowners who are struggling to make payments, even those who are underwater and couldn't refinance before. Keep in mind though, not everyone qualifies. You have to have a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loan. The borrower must be current on the mortgage at the time of the refinance, with a good payment history in the past 12 months.

If you think HARP could work for you, be warned, there are people out there looking to deceive you. Be on the lookout for fake websites and offers. Also, remember you can get free counseling from groups like H.O.M.E. If someone wants to charge, a red flag should go up.

"The stakes are really high. At the end of the day it could result in your losing your home. You could have been in your home for 25 years and just signing one document could sign your home over to somebody else," said Brown.

Another rule of thumb, deal with your lender first.

"The biggest mistake is not opening the mail. People, when they are behind in their mortgage, they tend not to open their mail. They tend not to answer the phone and the lender could be offering an option that is beneficial, so open the mail," Brown added.

The experts say most crooks just put a new spin on old scams. If you're fooled, there's almost no chance of getting your money back.

"They usually disappear. They set up an office or shop and by the time we find out about it, they are long gone," she said.

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