Former Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan perhaps put it best: “If home ownership is the American dream, then foreclosure is certainly the American nightmare. It destroys more than credit. It destroys lives. »

Across the country, many people are struggling to make their mortgage payments.

The past two years have dealt consumers devastating blows. First, it was the loss of jobs due to the temporary or permanent closure of businesses by COVID-19. The federal government tried to ease this pain with huge relief packages that fueled a huge spike in inflation. Supply chain issues, coupled with recent world events, have already driven up the prices of gas and energy, as well as those of food, wood and other consumer goods.

Desperate to maintain their credit ratings and keep their homes, harassed consumers frantically searched for solutions. One possibility that struggling homeowners have turned to is mortgage refinancing. At one point last year, mortgage refinance accounted for 67.5% of all home loan applications.

People struggling to refinance their mortgage payments have often become easy targets for fraudsters ready to take advantage of them.

One such example is a couple from Jacksonville, Florida who tried to refinance their mortgage and were turned down by their bank. In a television segment on Jacksonville’s WJXT, victims who did not want to be identified were referred to Charles Grove with CG Financial. Grove had a reputation for being able to help people in the couple’s situation. He demanded a substantial upfront fee, which the couple somehow found.

After paying the fees, the woman said, “I started to have a funny feeling that something was wrong. Every time we were supposed to meet or discuss details, something came up.

It turns out that Grove was busy, having not only taken their money, but also scammed many others. He has since been arrested and is charged with deceiving 32 victims out of more than $350,000, for which he faces up to 25 years in prison.

The scammers are heartless, target people who are already in trouble and take them for the last money they have.

If you’re considering refinancing your mortgage, the Better Business Bureau has steps you can take to avoid scams:

• Contact your lender first to see what they can do to help you. Your lender may work with you to negotiate repayment terms.

• Never pay a fee up front before the promised results are delivered. It is illegal to do so.

• Beware of unsolicited emails offering refinancing opportunities. Scammers can send thousands of emails asking for personal information or tricking you into stealing your money.

• Being asked for your name, address, date of birth, and social security number by someone who is not your current lender, and you don’t know the company making the refinance offer, is a huge, frantically waving red flag. . Heed the warning. Do not give them the requested information and avoid making commitments.

• If you are in arrears, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation offers one-on-one assistance to help at-risk homeowners avoid foreclosure by calling 844-995-HOME or 1-888-895-HOPE.

• Visit the Federal Trade Commission website at www.consumer.ftc.gov/mortgage-relief-scam for a list of other mortgage scams.

• Access the BBB Scam Tracker (www.bbb.org/scam tracker). It allows visitors to search for possible scam reports to see if other consumers have encountered the same caller, phone number, or website as you.

• Finally, if you believe you have been a victim of this scam or any other fraudulent activity, first file a police report with your local law enforcement agency and then contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau so they can make the public aware.

Reghan Winkler is Executive Director of the Better Business Bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB is available on the Internet at bbb.org/us/oh/lima.