Faced with crushing mortgage payments, Michael Kwan opened his e-mail and thought he had found the solution to his problems.
A link sent him to the Web site of Hope Now Financial Services Corp., which said it could help homeowners who need their mortgage loans modified to prevent foreclosure.
But Kwan, a retired casino supervisor from Egg Harbor Township, said it was an empty promise. "Those people were very slick," he said. "I thought they were doing such a bang-up business."
Kwan's experience led him to Wednesday's seminar on foreclosure scams sponsored by the Atlantic County Clerk's Office and South Jersey Legal Services, a nonprofit legal advocacy group.
Attendees received advice on what to do when companies say they can stop a home foreclosure and how to protect themselves against questionable offers.
Atlantic County Clerk Edward P. McGettigan said the growing number of pre-foreclosure filings in the past year has allowed scammers to prey upon more people, particularly seniors.
Abigail Sullivan, an attorney specializing in predatory lending for South Jersey Legal Services, said scammers can find potential victims through public foreclosure notices or they might use businesses that cull together such information and sell it. Some of her tips to avoid being defrauded:
Kwan said he failed to see the red flags. In January, he went to Hope Now Financial's offices in Cherry Hill and was impressed, paying them $3,750.
Not long after, phone calls went unreturned and he received no help, he said. On a subsequent visit to the office, it was shut down.
In March, the New Jersey Attorney General's Office filed a civil lawsuit against Hope Now Financial, as well as other companies that allegedly took advantage of homeowners looking for mortgage help.
Hope Now Financial is accused of collecting $29,000 from 23 people. The company could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Its phone number has been disconnected and Web site is unavailable.
Kwan said he is working to get his money back and so far has been able to avoid foreclosure.
"It's sad," Kenneth Goldman, director of litigation and advocacy with South Jersey Legal Services, said after Wednesday's seminar. Scam artists "are feeding off of people's misery and desperation."
South Jersey Legal Services in Camden does offer homeowners free assistance depending on their income. To find out if you qualify, call 800-496-4570.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will help homeowners find a counselor that can provide free foreclosure-prevention services. Call HUD at 800-569-4287.
E-mail Erik Ortiz: