Editor's Note: March 16, 2009. President Barack Obama's foreclosure-prevention plan, announced last week, is designed to give several million troubled borrowers another chance to lower their mortgage payments. But government officials and counseling agencies warn that it also presents a golden opportunity for firms to fleece unsuspecting borrowers.
Over the past few years, there has been a proliferation of firms that charge fees for what they promise will be quick results in negotiating with banks to get easier loan terms. In many cases, the firms take the homeowner's money but never deliver the services promised. Even when the firms do deliver what they promise, they charge fees – often more than $1,000 – for services borrowers can receive free. In July, Congress increased to $360 million the funds it has allocated for foreclosure-prevention counseling to organizations that provide the service without charging consumers.
"Borrowers don't need to pay anybody," says William Apgar, a senior adviser to Shaun Donovan, President Obama's new secretary of housing and urban development. But Mr. Apgar and others fear that the recent headlines about the Obama housing plan will prompt more consumers to seek help in the wrong places.
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