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By Spirit Messingham | Agent in 85716
  • Refinancing Scams

    Posted Under: Crime & Safety in Tucson, Financing in Tucson, Agent2Agent in Tucson  |  April 29, 2013 7:49 AM  |  437 views  |  4 comments
    As reported by Yahoo News:

    Own a home? Watch out, you could be the victim of a refinance or housing scam and not even know it.

    Since the beginning of the Great Recession, con artists have been targeting struggling homeowners. Posing as government agencies, nonprofits and attorneys, these scammers prey on homeowners ready to do anything to save their homes from foreclosure.

    But even as authorities catch on to the latest scams and shut them down, new ones evolve. Today, it's no longer just struggling homeowners who run the risk of falling victim to hustlers.

    "Many people who have been scammed were being proactive," says Yolanda McGill, Senior Counsel for the Fair Housing and Fair Lending Project at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. In many cases she has seen, homeowners could see life changes ahead – such as retirement or company downsizing – and wanted to refinance and lower their payments in advance of these events.

    "These people were doing just fine but thought it made sense to refinance and get a new loan at a lower interest rate – and they ended up [being scammed] because they just went online and found someone or heard an ad and called on it," McGill says.

    Today's con artists know there's money to be made off borrowers looking to take advantage of today's low interest rates and they've come up with a variety of ways to do it.

    Here are some of the most common refinancing scams out there, and how you can protect yourself.

    Phony government programs

    The Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP an HARP 2.0) is a free government program that allows homeowners who are on-time with their payments but underwater on their mortgages to refinance. Con artists know this program exists – and know how to take advantage of it – by creating a phony government program that sounds like it could be real to play off the lack of knowledge borrowers have about the real program.

    In this scam, a third party will contact you via phone, e-mail, flyer or direct mail to solicit your business. The scammer will generally say they're affiliated with, or approved by, the government, and often add phony, official-looking logos to their e-mails, direct mail and website.

    It can be hard to tell the difference. "If you get an official-looking letter with your loan number or address on it, don't assume it's real," McGill advises. "You should assume it's fake – no matter what – and contact your lender."

    After the initial contact, a scammer may ask you to fill out paperwork that details your financial and loan information. They will likely tell you to pay them a fee, and in exchange they'll help you qualify for the HARP program or something that sounds equally government-like, but is fake. The scammer will probably tell you not to contact your lender, lawyer or housing counselor because he or she will handle all the details of the refinance with your lender. You may even be told to start making your mortgage payments to the scam company instead of your lender, especially if the paperwork you signed contained a hidden quit claim deed, transferring your interests in the property to the scam artist.

    How to prevent it: Contact your local lender directly to see if you qualify for the HARP program, and don't believe a third party when they tell you they can expedite the process.

    "The best help is free," McGill says, "and a housing counselor cannot charge you enormous fees." You don't have to pay to qualify for HARP, and if someone tells you that you do, it should set off an alarm that you may be dealing with a scammer.

    Also beware of signing any paperwork with a third-party company that involves your house. Always ask a real estate attorney not affiliated with the company to check the paperwork. Check out the company online by searching the name of the company and the word "complaints." You can also see if the company or individual is licensed to do business in your state by going to your state's department of professional regulation. If the company isn't listed or has paperwork that is missing, you'll know something's amiss.

    Real estate attorneys with ulterior motives

    Refinancing can be a frustrating process, and loan modifications are exponentially more so. Real estate attorneys know this and they understand the homeowners and borrowers are often looking for ways to make refinancing and the loan modification process easier. An honest attorney will tell a borrower he doesn't need legal help to refinance his property, even through the HARP program. Though the best help you can get for a loan modification is free – in the form of a HUD approved housing counseler, not everyone is convinced they don't need an attorney.

    "Many people are frustrated, and they think they can pay someone to help them because that makes logical sense. Usually, you assume that if you're paying for something you'll get better service," McGill explains.

    Scammers understand this logic, and use it to take advantage of homeowners. In this refinance scam, an attorney – real or fake – will tell you they can help you refinance your home. They'll tell you they can call your lender for you and negotiate your refinance, or help you qualify for the HARP – for a fee.

    How to prevent it: An attorney simply cannot do a better job with your lender than you can, so don't believe anyone who says he can expedite the refinancing process or get you a better deal. It isn't true.

    When might you need an attorney? If you're fighting a foreclosure and need some legal heft, you'll want to find an attorney who had had legitimate experience in this area. If the attorney you hire isn't doing anything or has made false promises or has charged you for work that isn't completed, you can file a complaint with your state's legal disciplinary committee or call the state bar association for information.

    Rent-to-own or leaseback scheme

    This scam could also cost you your home. To pull this off, a scammer – sometimes posing as a real estate investor or attorney – will urge you to sign over the title or deed to your home. The con artist may tell you that doing so will allow a borrower with better credit to get a new loan at a low rate, which will ultimately benefit you.

    But the scammer has no intention of ever selling you back the home. And when the new borrower defaults on the loan, you end up evicted from your own house – and in a worse position than you were before because you still are name on the mortgage to the property. In other words, you've sold the house but still owe every last dollar on the loan.

    How to prevent it: Never, under any circumstances, sign over the deed or title of your home. If a low credit score is keeping you from refinancing, contact your lender to find out about your options, or ask a family member or good friend if they'd be willing to co-sign the loan. Worst case scenario, you may have to build up your credit before you can refinance.

    In many cases, these scams exist together as a suite of services. A con artist may tell you they can help you refinance under HARP and, if that doesn't work, do a sale-leaseback of your home or go to court for you to fight a foreclosure. Today's scammers are ready for anything, so be on guard when shopping for lenders or housing counselors.



    Spirit Messingham, PLLC

    3rd Generation Full-Time Realtor®

    Tierra Antigua Realty

    Direct (520) 471-6900

    Fax (866) 365-5208


  • How To Help Protect Your Home From Burglars-9 Tips

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Tucson, Crime & Safety in Tucson, Home Buying in Tucson  |  April 26, 2013 2:16 PM  |  389 views  |  1 comment

    As part of our neighborhood watch program, I have seen first hand many burglaries are a crime of opportunty.  Here are a couple of tips to keep in mind as a home owner:

    #1 - Secured Doors and Windows

    In approximately one-third of home burglaries the burglar comes in through an unlocked door or window, according to the "Burglary of Single Family Houses"guide, published by the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).

    "The first line of defense in your home's security is having solid core exterior doors with high quality grade 1 or 2 deadbolt locks," Miller states. "French doors can be secured with a quality deadbolt lock and a slide bolt penetrating the upper or lower doorframe."

    Miller notes that sliding glass doors are especially vulnerable if they do not have proper locks, so check with the manufacturer for the right ones.

    "A snug-fitting dowel (a piece of cylindrical wood - similar to a broom handle) in the lower track of the door will also prevent it from being opened." Miller also recommends installing eyebolts in the frames of sliding windows to allow for ventilation without leaving enough room for an intruder.

    #2 - A Loud Dog

    Dogs are not only "man's best friend." They can also be a burglar's worst enemy.

    In fact, COPS reports that most burglars avoid houses with dogs. "Burglars don't want to be seen or caught; they also want to avoid pain," agrees Miller, who adds that dogs that bark - even small, noisy dogs - can be an effective deterrent.

    And while you might feel safer with a large dog that could do bodily harm, like a German Shepherd, Miller says the most important aspect is having a dog that sounds an alarm with its bark.

    #3 - A Home Security System

    If you want something that not only makes noise when there's an intruder, but also calls for help, consider installing a home security system. Home security systems detect when someone enters your house uninvited, sets off an alarm, and also notifies authorities of an invasion.

    "If you have valuables that need protection, rampant burglaries in your area, and are away from home for long stretches, a home security system could be a good option for you," says Miller.

    She recommends doing some online research and checking with local alarm system companies to find the best system for your needs.

    #4 - Motion Sensor Lights

    Installing sensor lights (which turn on when they detect motion) is a great way to illuminate portions of your property only when needed - like when someone enters the area.

    Sensor lights will come on as soon as someone enters under cover of darkness - as a burglar would.

    "Outside lighting is one of the cheapest and most effective deterrents to crime," states Miller, who adds that "motion sensor lights give you the ease of having lights come on automatically."

    #5 - Surveillance Cameras

    A video surveillance system can be a bit costly, but it could help you sleep better at night.

    "Installing a video security system can give you peace of mind and act as a deterrent to burglars, especially when you're on vacation," Millers states.

    However, if you don't want to go the full route of installing a system, think about putting up a "dummy" camera or two to give the illusion of protection. And while Miller agrees installing a "dummy" camera could intimidate a burglar, she says the downside is it can't provide evidence if a burglary occurs.

    #6 - Protection Warning Signs

    Got a dog or a home security system? Share that information with signage on your fence, door, or window. Much like putting up security cameras, letting a burglar know you are well protected makes you less of a target.

    "It's important to look at your home from a burglar's point of view," shares Miller. "Burglars who think they might be seen or caught will think twice before targeting your house."

    Miller cautions that while having this kind of signage can be to your advantage, it could also make burglars wonder what you have that's worth protecting.

    #7 - A Trimmed and Tidy Yard

    Untrimmed trees and shrubs provide good hiding places for burglars and can obscure their entry into your home.

    To get a better sense of what she means, Miller suggests the following: "Stand out on your front sidewalk and take an objective look at your house. Do you have trees or shrubs providing hiding places for someone?" If so, Miller recommends trimming tree branches up to six feet from the ground and shrubs down to below window sills.

    A shaggy lawn - especially one that's usually trimmed - can also indicate to a burglar that you're likely on vacation, or simply away on business for a prolonged period of time. Consider hiring someone to mow your lawn if you're going to be out of town for more than a week.

    #8 - The Appearance that Someone is Home

    Burglars know your routine, and when there's a break in that routine - like when you're on vacation - it's a signal that your home is clear for a break-in.

    With that in mind, Miller says that "the goal when you're gone is for your home to appear lived in."

    To accomplish this, Miller suggests using motion-sensor lights and timers on your radio and TV to simulate occupancy and create the illusion that you're home.

    Corvallis, Oregon home insurance professional, Bonnie Lundy, agrees: "Anything you can do to make your home look occupied while you're away is a good thing - and timed electronics are great for that."

    She does caution, however, that burglars are aware people use timers, and recommends some variation in the pattern.

    #9 - Helpful Neighbors

    We just talked about making your home look lived in while you're away. And while simulating occupancy can get tricky, the good news is you can enlist help. The best recruits? Your neighbors.

    Whenever you're away, Lundy highly recommends asking your neighbors to get your mail and newspapers, and check for any deliveries. Miller also recommends asking them to put garbage bags in your garbage can.

    And that's not all. You should also "ask a trusted neighbor to park their vehicle in your driveway occasionally while you're out of town," suggests Miller.

    Any sign of activity at your home is enough to deter most burglars - who count on an empty house.


    Spirit Messingham, PLLC

    3rd Generation Full-Time Realtor®

    Tierra Antigua Realty

    Direct (520) 471-6900

    Fax (866) 365-5208



  • Have questions about buying real estate in Arizona? Buyer's Advisory

    Posted Under: General Area in Tucson, Crime & Safety in Tucson, Home Buying in Tucson  |  January 15, 2013 2:33 PM  |  324 views  |  1 comment

    First thing a prospective buyer should do, talk with a local lender to get pre-approved. That way you will know what your rate will be (can't lock rate until you have an executed contract) what your max price should be and etc, and what you can expect to pay monthly for your mortgage. This is free to do, and a buyer will need to submit a signed pre-qualification form (replaced LSR last year) with any offer they make.

    Next, find a local experienced agent to help you. In the mean time, check out the Buyer's Advisory and there is a link below for your convenience.

    The Arizona Department of Real Estate (ADRE) Buyer Advisory provided by the Arizona Association of REALTORS® (AAR) is a fantastic tool to assist buyers with their due diligence inspections and investigations during their inspection time period. It can also be extremely helpful for them to use for their preliminary research on houses of interest prior to making an offer. This document is constantly updated by AAR to ensure that the most current information and websites are being made available to buyers.



    Please click on my profile to learn more about me, and read past client reviews.  Give me a call with any questions or concerns, buying a house should be an exciting and educational experience.




    Spirit Messingham, PLLC

    3rd Generation Full-Time Realtor®

    Direct (520) 471-6900

    Fax (866) 365-5208



  • Tips to Secure Your Home: Summer Burglary Reminders

    Posted Under: General Area in Arizona, Crime & Safety in Arizona, Agent2Agent in Arizona  |  June 22, 2012 11:47 AM  |  464 views  |  1 comment



    The Tucson Police Department would like to remind the citizens of Tucson to take extra care this summer in an effort to avoid becoming a victim of a burglary or larceny. Historically, there has been an increase in reported incidents of larceny and burglary during the summer months. Much of the increase is likely attributed to the fact that many homes are left vacant for hours or even days at a time as citizens take vacation breaks and/or attend gatherings during various summer holidays. The Tucson Police Department would like to work in partnership with our community, making every effort to prevent such crimes from occurring.

    As a citizen, the following steps can be taken to better protect your homes and assets:


    Keep all doors and windows closed and securely fastened. An open window or door is an open invitation for burglars, and has been a point of entry in a number of recent burglaries in Tucson.


    Doors should have deadbolt locks with a one-inch throw and reinforced strike plate with three-inch screws. All windows should have window locks. Sliding glass doors should have a metal rod or piece of wooden dowel in the track, and vertical bolts to prevent lifting the door.


    If you have an attached garage, always lock the door that leads into the house. Don't rely on your automatic garage door mechanism for security. In addition, consider updating your older automatic opener to include one with enhanced security features. Don’t get in the habit of leaving your garage vehicle-bay door open when you are home and only closing it at night. Thieves need just seconds to take valuables from an open garage.


    Dog and cat doors or flaps are frequently used by burglars for gaining entry. If you must have a pet-access door, invest in one that has security features, and secure it if you will be away from home for an extended period.


    Keep the perimeter of your home well lighted. Low-voltage lighting is relatively inexpensive.


    Create the illusion that you are home through the use of timers on lights, radios and TV's.


    Keep shrubbery trimmed away from entrances and walkways. They provide concealment for burglars.


    Never leave clues that you are away on a trip. Have a trusted neighbor collect mail and newspapers while you are away so delivered items do not accumulate. You can also ask a neighbor to park in your driveway or parking place, and to open and close curtains and shades to make it appear that you are home.


    Know who is in your home. Don’t allow friends to bring unknown people to your home or host parties that are open to uninvited guests.


    Never leave a message on your telephone answering machine telling people that you are away from home. A message that you will return at a certain time leaves your home vulnerable in the interim.


    Restrict access to your social media pages to family and close friends. Don’t accept “friend” requests unless you are convinced that you know and trust the sender. Don’t post about upcoming vacation dates or times when you will be away from home, or update your “status” to tell others that you are currently sitting on a tropical beach, and not at home.


    Organize or actively participate in a neighborhood watch program. An alert community is a safe community, and your neighbors will be the first ones to recognize when someone or something is out of place. Look out for your neighbors and notify police as soon as possible if you see someone or something suspicious at your neighbor’s house.


    Call 911 as soon as you see something suspicious occurring. Allow the police the opportunity to investigate the situation before it becomes a crime.  These tips are not intended to be all-inclusive, but rather a basic guide that provides some common sense and practical tips for citizens. With very little effort and no, or sometimes minimal, expense, we can all take steps to make our properties less attractive targets for criminal activity.


    For more crime prevention tips as well as contact information for our Neighborhood Watch coordinators, please visit Tucson City web site at:





    Spirit Messingham, PLLC
    3rd Generation Full-Time Realtor®
    Tierra Antigua Realty
    Direct (520) 471-6900
    Fax (866) 365-5208

  • Flashlight Bombs In Phoenix, Arizona

    Posted Under: Traffic & Public Transportation in Phoenix, Crime & Safety in Phoenix, Agent2Agent in Phoenix  |  June 9, 2012 7:59 AM  |  737 views  |  No comments

    Phoenix, Arizona police are concerned after several flashlights have exploded, causing injuries.  Use caution before picking up a discarded flashlight.

    Three of these bombs have exploded within the last month in the Phoenix area, causing minor injuries to five people and raising fears of more serious ones.

    Police still have no idea who is behind them and have taken the unusual step of putting up 22 billboards across the sprawling metro area to warn residents about discarded flashlights.

    "The nature of the bombings are so random," said Tom Mangan, a special agent at the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Phoenix.

    Mangan said the agency has ruled out any connection to terrorism because the targets have been random and there have been no messages or demands.

    The ATF said the bombs appear to have been made by the same person or people because their design was identical.

    An explosive was placed inside the flashlights with a smaller battery and rigged so that turning it on would send an electrical current that triggered the blast, Mangan said. He declined to identify the explosive material.

    The first bomb was spotted by a passerby on May 13 in a suburb just west of Phoenix. It was sitting behind a palm tree in a strip mall and blew up when it was clicked on.

    The next day, about 10 miles away, a landscaper found a flashlight in an irrigation ditch. It, too, exploded when he flicked the switch, authorities said.

    The third bomb exploded on May 24 at a Salvation Army distribution center near downtown Phoenix and about 11 miles from the first one.

    An employee detonated the device while sorting through donations, forcing 120 people in the store to evacuate. Jon Bierd, production manager at the facility, said the worker suffered a small abrasion to his forehead.

    The Salvation Army stopped accepting donations of flashlights. Since the explosion, employees have not seen any flashlights matching the yellow one seen on the billboards.

    "If we have a flashlight that's heavy or is not empty, then I'd call the Phoenix Police Department. No matter where it is, we do not touch it," said Bierd, who is setting aside any flashlight that is donated.

    In addition to the billboards, police are offering a $10,000 reward for tips that lead to an arrest or conviction.

    Police have received dozens of calls reporting possible flashlight bombs that either turned out to be false alarms or hoaxes, including one from a Goodwill store.

    Meanwhile, the bombings have stopped, though it is unclear whether there are more flashlights out there.

    The attention may have scared them off or they may gain confidence and strike again as the investigation stretches on without an arrest, criminal profiler Gregg McCrary said.

    Details of the case lead the former FBI agent to think the culprit is either a man or two men, with one of them being a dominant leader and the other a follower.

    As for motive, whoever is responsible may be bombing at random for various reasons, said McCrary, who teaches at Marymount University in Virginia.

    "Typically these things are about wanting to feel superior and smarter than other people," he said, adding that they also might revel in the news coverage.

    "There'll be a vicarious thrill or excitement watching news coverage, and it's kind of like: 'Look what I've done.' It's a sense of empowerment that 'I made all this happen,'" he said.

    Mangan said the remnants of the bombs are at a laboratory and being studied for fingerprints and other DNA evidence. The ATF said it will try to trace the materials used in the bombs to see where they were bought.

    Mangan said his agency and others are concerned that the bombings will resume, possibly in a different container. They're also worried that the injuries won't be so minor next time.

    "Anytime any individual uses a bomb, their purpose is to create fear in the community and also to inflict serious injury or death," he said.

    Sources:  Yahoo News
    Associated Press writer Terry Tang contributed to this report.


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