A Nevada case illustrates the extent that we trust people who act as though they have a right to our money. According to a news story, two men, Joseph Yorkus and James Bartczak, set up a company called Great Western Business Services and set out to defraud homeowners. They allegedly sent letters to homeowners informing them that their mortgages had been transferred from Bank of America to Great Western. The letters instructed the homeowners to make their mortgage payments to Great Western rather than Bank of America even though B of A still actually owned the loans. So many of those who complied with the request are now behind on home loans, dealing with credit problems and at risk of foreclosure because B of A didn't get the payments; instead the scammers took the money.

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But mortgage payment scamming is only part of the picture.

The cons also allegedly set up several other companies for the purposes of collecting other payments and bilking folks out of money for bogus mortgage modifications services.

Economic times are tough. The rules apply more than ever.

If someone calls or writes you about payment for something, whether it's an old collection account, a new mortgage payment, or a service, don't part with your money without knowing who you are paying and what you're paying for.

Loan servicing changes come with TWO notices.

Keep sending your regular mortgage payments to the same address until you get TWO notices (also called transfer letters). The first will be from your current lender/servicer and the next will be from the bank taking over your loan. You have plenty of time to make the switch and should not have to worry about payments being reported late to credit bureaus. When in doubt, call your current loan servicer and find out if your mortgage has been transferred before you send money elsewhere.

Collection accounts are not always valid

Just because someone calls you from a collection agency doesn't mean you owe money. First, a bogus company could be trying to con you into sending it money you don't owe, or money that you owe to someone else. Cross-check any collections with the original creditor before issuing payment. Second, if a collection is more than a few years old, you may still owe the money but the collector can't force you to pay it. That's because there are statutes of limitations on debt. Paying an old collection could even hurt your credit rating by turning an old derogatory entry into a new one and increasing the weight it gets in your score compilation. So any time someone asks you for payment, be very sure that you owe the debt and that you are paying the right company.

Don't pay in advance for services.

If a mortgage modification company claims a high success rate and wants to help you with your loan (for a fee of course!), make it earn that money before you pay. It is now illegal for most providers to charge you an upfront fee for mortgage modification services; they have to get you a modification agreement before they get paid. And don't be swayed by claims of 100% money back guaranties either. Many have found that trying to collect on these promises is as difficult as trying to get their loans modified in the first place. Finally, attorneys ARE allowed to charge up-front retainers for modification services. That's because they have to conform to strict rules about escrowing your funds, applying them to actual services, and returning them as agreed.