From time to time, everyone has found themselves vulnerable to getting duped, said JoAnn Mangione, the communications manager for the D.C.-based Legal Counsel for the Elderly, an AARP affiliate.
Getting scammed, Mangione said, isn’t just a part of getting older like gray hair. She said highly successful business people, professors and other professionals with higher education and the benefit of younger age, still get duped.
“But the predators do target the elderly more,” she said, noting that the average age range for scam victims is between 55 and 65.
Legal Counsel for the Elderly’s Foreclosure Prevention Project attorneys staff the judicial foreclosure calendar at D.C. Superior Court every week, providing information, legal assistance and full representation to low-income D.C. homeowners facing foreclosure, with a particular focus on elderly homeowners.
“One particular case comes to mind,” said Amy R. Mix, the supervising attorney for consumer fraud and financial abuse for Legal Counsel for the Elderly (LCE), which has been providing services for more than 40 years.
Mix related the case of a man she called “Mr. L,” a 67-year-old client whose home had been in his family since the 1950s. Mr. L had been at risk of losing the house because he owed his reverse-mortgage lender less than $4,000 in unpaid real property taxes.
“Mr. L didn’t appear for his court hearing because he couldn’t see how he could possibly come up with the $4,000, and he was so overwhelmed by the idea of losing his family home that he was unable to act,” Mix said.
The house had been scheduled for a foreclosure auction when someone familiar with LCE services referred Mr. L.
“We successfully filed a motion to stop the foreclosure sale and asked the court for some time to work with Mr. L to see if we could help him save his longtime home,” Mix said.
With LCE’s help, a repayment plan to save the house which included making a lump sum payment using a tax refund the organization helped Mr. L to apply for.
“We also helped him apply for real property tax benefits he was eligible for, but not receiving to make sure that the property payments remained affordable going forward,” Mix said.
In 2016, LCE worked on about 350 cases that involved foreclosures and the organization has seen a sizable increase in the number of reverse mortgage foreclosures in the last couple of years, attorneys said.
In early 2014, the D.C. Superior Court set up a model early mediation program that gives borrowers a chance to try to work something out with their lenders before the foreclosure can move forward.
A key component of that model program is that all the foreclosure lawsuits are set on the same two days each week, which means the availability in court by legal services attorneys and housing counselors talk to borrowers about their cases.
The court’s early mediation program has been very successful at getting borrowers involved in their cases and providing resources to borrowers, and a lot of borrowers are able to avoid foreclosure by participating in the early mediation.
“Ensuring that this early mediation program continues — and providing funding to ensure that the resources continue to be available — would certainly benefit District residents,” Mix said.
Any borrower falling behind in payments should first contact their lender to see whether the lender offers any programs to help catch up, she said. If that doesn’t work, the next step should be speaking with a HUD-certified housing counselor.
D.C. residents can call the citywide Foreclosure Prevention Hotline at 202-265-CALL and connect with a free HUD-certified housing counselor. Further, a borrower in active foreclosure — because of the filing of a foreclosure lawsuit, a scheduled mediation, or a pending sale date — should seek legal advice immediately.
Borrowers age 60 and over can call Legal Counsel for the Elderly at 202-434-2120.
“It’s always better to look for help before the problem grows out of control, so earlier is better,” Mix said. “There might be solutions available earlier on that become unavailable later. For example, a borrower might be eligible for a loan modification earlier on, but if the amount in default grows too large, then that same borrower may not be able to modify the loan.
“So that borrower would have been better off asking for help earlier,” Mix said. “And an earlier fix also means less time spent being stressed about past due bills and a possible foreclosure.”
An attorney or a HUD-certified counselor could explain how foreclosures work and what to watch for, so that the borrower doesn’t miss any important deadlines.
For example, in D.C., most foreclosures are handled through the courts now, but a borrower must be certain to attend the court hearing if they want to try to work something out with the lender.
For those foreclosures that happen outside the court system, there’s a mediation program run by the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking (DISB), but a borrower has a short window of time to “opt in” to the mediation.
“If you think you may be headed toward foreclosure, it’s important to know about the process and carefully review communications from the lender so that you don’t miss out on any opportunities to save your home,” Mix said.