Kenneth Hamilton longingly looks at what was once his home for 14 years. Someone else owns it now and has it up for rent. After a major illness, the professional photographer tried to save the condo with a loan modification. Instead, he lost it to foreclosure after giving a broker nearly $2,000 and following his instruction to no longer contact the bank or make his mortgage payments.
"He reduced my mortgage from $785 to $386 and all of this I should have known, if it sounds too good, it can't be true, but I fell for it," Hamilton said.
It's stories like Hamilton's that are behind a new public awareness campaign from the California Association of Realtors and the California District Attorneys Association. Mortgage scams are up nearly 60 percent nationwide this year with the Golden State a prime target.
"California is a lucrative target for scammers with seven California metro areas posted in the top 10 for foreclosure rates," California Association of Realtors spokesperson LeFrancis Arnold said.
The state expects more fraud as rip-off artists will use the recent national mortgage settlement as a way to lure more vulnerable victims.
"We have seen unscrupulous operators having scammed their own friends and neighbors. In fact, scammers are known to target members of their own church and take advantage of their trust," Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully said.
Some red flags include anyone asking for payment upfront, promising to stop the foreclosure process or instructing you to stop contact with your lender, family or friends about foreclosure
Hamilton ran into all of those signs, but it's too late.
"It was nothing but a scam," he said.
The state is also trying to stop the scammers. The California Department of Real Estate has revoked more licenses in the past three years than any time in the last two decades.