On Your Side: Mortgage Fraud

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The FBI says it happens more in Georgia than in any other state...and you could end up losing your home because of it.

It's called mortgage fraud.

Maybe someone steals your identity and takes out a loan, or maybe your company tacks on illegal fees.

12 On Your Side's Jeff Anderson tells you how not to be a victim.

Shirley Alvarez made a career out of serving her country in the military.

But after she got back from her last stint overseas in Korea, she says she got a nasty surprise.

"They told me I missed a mortgage payment," she said.

She says that was virtually impossible because the military paid her mortgage like clockwork.

When she finally talked to a representative at Countrywide Mortgage, they told her company records indicated she had been late on every payment for eight years.

"I'm looking at seven or eight thousand dollars in late fees."

Not to mention thousands of dollars in other miscellaneous fees. Shirley's attorneys eventually advised her to sell her house. In the process she says she lost a lot of money and her comfort zone.

"I haven't lived in an apartment for 30 years," she said.

Shirley isn't the only who feels like she got shammed.

"I send them in by money order...that way I have my receipt," Chris Williams told 12 On Your Side.

Chris has been paying her mortgage that way for years. She and her husband did get behind on their payments, but then she made six straight double payments of more than $800 each to get caught up. To her surprise, EMC Mortgage told her they never got the extra money...even though it was sent in by money order.

"They're not returning my money, but yet they say I'm behind on my house."

How much is she behind? EMC tells her she owes more than $11,000. She knows she was late a few times...but that's a lot of late fees.

If she can't pay it, she may lose her house.

As of now, neither accusation has been proven in court. 12 On Your Side is talking with both mortgage companies about these problems, looking for a resolution.

You may wonder how this could happen...but several websites have pages and pages of complaints about these sorts of practices.

In 2003, mortgage company Fairbanks Capital settled with the Federal Trade Commission for $40 million. The company was charged with, among other things, levying illegal late fees and other unauthorized fees.

Shirley and Chris' attorney, Angie McElroy, has been dealing with these types of cases for years. She says even though these are big powerful companies, you do stand a chance to set things right.

"They're pretty good if you call them on it," she said. "A lot of times mortgage companies will settle."

That's just what Shirley asked McElroy to do...and the first step is a 40 page legal complaint. The goal is to get Shirley's money back--money she feels was deceptively taken from her.

"Big time...cheated, abused, feel like I been raked through the coals," she said.

There are ways to protect yourself.

Every year, ask for a transaction history from your mortgage company, not a payment history. A transaction history will have all the fees.

Countrywide said this about Shirley's mortgage:

Countrywide deeply regrets this issue was not resolved in a timely manner.

When Ms. Alvarez's situation was brought to our attention, we took immediate action to rectify the situation. The late fees in question will be immediately refunded.

But they didn't have Ms. Alvarez's contact information. They wanted it from us.

Ms. Alvarez tells 12 On Your Side she doesn't want to talk to them.

Her attorney says she should get about $6000 in refunds.

After 12 On Your Side looked into the complaints, EMC Mortgage representatives say the extra charges on Chris Williams' home were a mistake and will make things right.

That will save her $11,496.

Adding both of those to our 12 On Your Side cash register, we've gotten $200,460 back for you.

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