Mortgage fraud reports have increased nationwide from more than 6,900 in 2003 to more than 93,500 in 2011, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). And the nonprofit Homeownership Preservation Foundation reported the number of mortgage foreclosure scams has shot up 60 percent so far in 2012.

In response to the growing fraud, the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® is educating homeowners and warning consumers they are at risk of being scammed by third parties, such as those that promise loan modifications for an up-front fee, which is illegal.

Many so-called foreclosure rescue companies or foreclosure assistance firms review foreclosure notices in newspapers, the Internet, and public files to identify potential victims, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). They then ask for money up-front and claim they can help homeowners save their home. Some are bold enough to offer a money-back guarantee. However, the scammers simply take the homeowners’ money, often leaving them in worse circumstances than before.

Consumers should NEVER pay money up-front for services promised. Instead, get a referral to a free HUD-approved housing counselor to advise on loan modifications, short sales, and other alternatives for avoiding foreclosure by calling (888) 995-HOPE.

Homeowners who have a home loan with one of the participating lenders or servicers should visit their home loan assistance site:

Ally/GMAC: 800-766-4622
Bank of America: 877-488-7814
Citi: 866-272-4749
JPMorgan Chase: 866-372-6901
Wells Fargo: 800-288-3212