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Loan Modification Nightmare

11:39 PM, Nov 5, 2012   |    comments
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SILVER SPRING, Md, (WUSA) -- "Every day I come in and out of this house, I have to thank God for another day here," Sonja Walters says.

She is thankful because she hasn't made a payment on her home in over a year.  The self-employed caretaker lost her clients and her income, too.  So, she reached out to her lender, Indy Mac, which told her to apply for a loan modification on their website.

"This number came up," she says.

So she called that number.  And, she thought the person on the other end was with her bank. 

Walters says, "He asked me a bunch of questions, and he said, you know, you're qualified."

The person on the line was actually someone representing a law firm called Macey, Aleman and Searns.  Mrs. Walters says the rep promised to help her get that monthly payment down.

"I felt comfortable in that they're lawyers and that they would help me," she says.

The law firm, also known as The Mortgage Law Group and Legal Helpers Debt Resolution, had her sign a retainer agreement and a document that allowed the company to withdraw monthly payments directly from her bank account.  In all, she was on the hook for just over $6,000. 

After more than a year of waiting for progress, Mrs. Walters kept trying to reach someone at The Mortgage Law Group.

9 News Now's Lesli Foster asked, "So, what happened when you called Macey's lawyers again? 

"I don't get anyone," says Sonja Walters.

In early June, she received a notice that said she was no longer a client and that she was "disengaged" back in April.  According to the agreement she signed, TMLG was supposed to provide Mrs. Walters with an "accounting of fees" earned within 30 days.

She says she never got that. 

To be fair, the agreement Mrs. Walters signed does not promise  or guarantee any results.  Instead, the agreement says the money she pays TMLG would go toward the effort to try to get her loan modified.  If the firm doesn't accomplish that goal, they still get her money.

"There are no guarantees.  You can't guarantee a loan modification especially without first looking at the history of payments and the ability to pay," says BBB President and CEO Edward Johnson.

The state of Illinois sued the companies and got consumers in Illinois $2.1 million for their troubles.  And earlier this year, Arizona took action against The Mortgage Law Group for violating the state's Consumer Fraud Act. 

In the lawsuit, the state charges TMLG gave customers the false impression that paying them a retainer fee would help them fix their mortgage issues.  TMLG settled with the state for just under $100,000.

Mrs. Walters wishes she had called the Better Business Bureau about the law group before she paid a thing.

Edward Johnson says, "Had she done so, she would have known that the company has an "F" rating with the Better Business Bureau."

There is now a federal rule designed to keep companies from misrepresenting what they can do if your home is at risk. 

File Complaint With Federal Trade Commission

They also can't require a fee up front.  And they aren't supposed to get paid until they negotiate a deal that you accept.

But there is an out for lawyers, who are allowed to charge a retainer fee for their services.

Johnson says, "It's a tough lesson for the consumer."

"I wouldn't want to see it happen to anyone else.  It's not a good feeling," Sonja Walters says.

Sonja is now working with a reputable organization that helps homeowners.

Maryland's Attorney General's office knows of other complaints against The Mortgage Law Group, and they helped one couple get their $3,000 back from the company. 

Maryland Attorney General's Office Complaint Form

We reached out to The Mortgage Law Group to ask about Mrs. Walters' claims, but no one has called us back. 

Neighborworks America-Foreclosure Resources

The parent company of Sonja's lender tells us they are are not affiliated with the law firm and they urged all people to be cautious if any person or organization asks for a fee in exchange for counseling or loan modification services.

Written by Lesli Foster and Stephanie Wilson
9 News Now

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