Attorney General Lori Swanson on Friday sued two companies that modify homeowners' mortgages, accusing them of charging fees before delivering their services.
The lawsuits were filed under a new state law that prohibits firms from collecting advance payments from homeowners who are trying to change interest rates or other terms on their loans.
"These companies are very good at what they do: They lure people to believe that they can help, only they take money from people who really don't have it and fail to deliver on the promised service," Swanson said.
The lawsuits were filed against firms that do business as American Mitigation Consultants (AMC) of Philadelphia, Pa., and Discount Mortgage Relief of Scottsdale, Ariz.
A man who answered the phone at AMC said the company had no comment, and a phone number for Discount Mortgage Relief rang busy.
The up-front fee the companies charged Minnesota consumers varied from $1,250 to $3,000.
Cynthia Fritsche, one of the homeowners who contacted Swanson's office, said she's still trying to get her money back after asking AMC to modify the mortgage she and her husband have for their home in Oak Park Heights. Both have lost their jobs within the past two years and are still unemployed.
The company first promised them it could modify their mortgage in 30-60 days, but Fritsche said there were delays.
"They kept telling me we were in review. They didn't do anything for us," Fritsche said.
The couple later started working directly with their lender, which Fritsche said she wished they would have done in the first place. It's possible their home will have to go into foreclosure.
Swanson said her office has seen an increase in complaints from people like Fritsche. In some cases, the companies take people"s money and then disappear.
"I suspect that we're going to be filing more lawsuits of this kind against other mortgage modification companies that we're looking at right now," she said.
Swanson said homeowners looking for help to modify the terms of their loans should contact the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to find a reputable nonprofit organization that can assist them.