People who are facing some kind of financial distress are often the most vulnerable to fraud.
The recent case in Harford County Circuit Court, in which a man was convicted of duping an Edgewood couple out of money he said could be used to reduce their mortgage debt, is a lesson often taught but seldom learned until it is too late, namely that if it sounds too good to be true, it almost assuredly is.
In this particular case, the couple lost their house anyway and undoubtedly suffered the usual credit stigmatizations that come with foreclosure. The crook is going to spend a year and a month in jail and has already paid back most of the $9,000 he conned the couple out of, according to the assistant state's attorney who prosecuted the case.
This was the first mortgage fraud related case prosecuted in Harford courts, according to veteran prosecutor Bill Christoforo, who is heading off to well-earned retirement after bringing the case to a successful conclusion. Christoforo says he has every reason to believe there are many, many more instances of people in Harford County who are facing the loss of their homes and being preyed on by fraudsters. We have no reason to doubt him.
The current housing crisis was, after all, essentially a big con game to begin with, one rigged by Washington bureaucrats and Wall Street bankers and aided and abetted by greed all the way down the line to many homebuyers themselves. As is usually the case when a big scam is perpetrated on the unsuspecting, everyone took a cut on the way down, and now that bubble has burst, a lot of other unscrupulous people are trying to horn in and get a cut on the back end.
In the Harford fraud case, the victims are said to have been sophisticated, but had to deal with medical bills and other financial concerns and, as is also often the case, they turned to someone with whom they were acquainted who offered to help. It also took them some time to even understand they were being played. According to Christoforo, they suspected nothing until Judge William O. Carr became suspicious of what was happening and referred their foreclosure case to the state's attorney's office to investigate.
One of the lessons to take from this case is that the penalties for fraudulent activities involving mortgages in Maryland probably should be stiffer. Still, the best deterrent is for people to understand that when they have financial problems, they need to seek qualified help. The county government has a housing office whose staff is trained to refer people with mortgage issues to agencies or individuals who can legitimately help them.
Don't fall victim to the wolf in sheep's clothing. There are plenty of them out there just waiting to devour what little money you have left. If you lose your home in the process, it's of no consequence to them, unless, of course, they get caught.