Monthly Archives: April 2020

What are Mortgage Closing Scams and How to Protect Yourself

Getting a mortgage is one of the biggest investments most people will make in their lives. Our company takes pride in protecting our borrowers’ finances and personal information during the mortgage process, but we can’t do this without their help. Part of our job as a lender is educating our clients on how to protect themselves from the risks of mortgage closing scams.

What are mortgage closing scams?

Mortgage closing scams are a form of phishing that targets people who are obtaining mortgages. The scam attempts to trick borrowers into sending their closing funds (down payment and closing costs) to the wrong recipient by sending false instructions that appear to come from a trusted source. An estimated total of $1 billion in mortgage closing scams occur every year, costing some victims tens of thousands of dollars or more.

Here’s how a mortgage closing scam can happen:

  1. The borrower receives an email, text message or other communication from their settlement agent, lender or another professional working on their transaction.
  2. The message includes instructions for the borrower to send their closing funds electronically. Everything looks good, so they follow the instructions and send their money.
  3. The borrower eventually learns that their closing funds were never received. They show everyone the instructions they followed, but no one recognizes them. These were fake instructions sent by a scammer!
  4. The borrower calls their bank as fast as they can to try to reverse the transfer, but it’s too late. Their money is gone for good, and now their closing is in jeopardy.

How can you protect yourself from mortgage closing scams?

Here are the instructions we provide to our borrowers to help them keep their closing funds safe:

  1. NEVER trust any wire instructions from anyone until you verify the instructions. No matter how authentic an email, text message, phone call, letter, website or other message seems, it can easily be a fraudulent imitation.
  2. DO NOT call, click or use any phone numbers, hyperlinks, email addresses or email attachments you receive in an unverified message. These items may be false or dangerous. If you receive a phone call you do not trust, politely hang up and call a number you do trust.
  3. ALWAYS verify your wire instructions by calling your settlement agent at a trusted phone number. This should be a number you have on file or receive from a trusted source. When you call, be sure to verify any account numbers or names included in the instructions.
  4. ONLY obtain wire instructions from your settlement agent. As a lender, we do not send wire instructions, and if you receive them from anyone but your settlement agent, it may be a sign of an attempted scam.
  5. STOP, think and take your time. Be on your guard if anyone tries to push you to send money immediately or surprises you with last minute changes. Only send your funds after you have confidently followed these steps without rushing.
  6. ONLY send your funds by wire transfer using validated wire instructions from your settlement agent. Never send funds by ACH (automatic clearing house) bank transfer, PayPal, Venmo, Zelle or any other payment transfer method.
  7. IMMEDIATELY notify your bank or wire transfer company and request a wire recall if you believe your wire was sent to the wrong recipient. Do this only by calling phone numbers you trust. Your chances of reversing a fraudulent transfer decrease the longer you wait.

To learn more about how to stay safe from mortgage closing scams, click here to visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s page on the topic.

Your Spring Cleaning Checklist

Spring is the season of starting fresh. As you stow away your winter apparel and open windows for a dose of fresh air and birdsong, use this handy spring cleaning checklist to get your entire home feeling new and refreshed this spring.

The coronavirus situation has reminded us that “clean enough” isn’t always clean enough. To thoroughly clean and disinfect your household, consider adding the steps in this detailed guide from the CDC to your cleaning routines.

All Rooms

  • Dust rooms thoroughly
  • Wipe walls and ceilings
  • Deep clean floors
  • Vacuum and clean rugs
  • Wipe and polish wood furniture
  • Clean and dust upholstered furniture
  • Wash window treatments
  • Wash windows and windowsills, vacuum tracks

Kitchen

Bathroom

  • Wash shower curtain and rugs
  • Replace shower curtain liner
  • Toss old or expired toiletries and medicine
  • Clean toilet inside and out
  • Snake shower drain
  • Clean shower and tub
  • Clean showerhead
  • Clean sink and countertop
  • Clean mirror and sink fixtures

Bedroom

Outdoor Maintenance

Congratulations! With this list complete, you can kick up your feet and enjoy a fresh, clean home for spring.

How to Start Your Own Vegetable Garden

Looking to get outdoors, eat healthier and save money, all in one activity? You can do all this with vegetable gardening! Starting a home vegetable garden is a great way to put fresh, healthy food on your table while saving money in the produce section. Gardening is a fun project that can have the whole family outdoors and working together. Here’s how to get going with your first vegetable garden – even if you don’t have a yard to plant one in.

Preparing Your Vegetable Garden

Before reaching for your overalls and shovel, stop and consider a few important factors for your garden.

What type of vegetables should you grow?

The best vegetables to grow in your garden are ones you will actually eat! Don’t let that hard work go to waste because you remembered your distaste for Brussels sprouts only after harvesting them.

Local climate also plays a big role in deciding what to plant. Certain vegetables do better in certain growing conditions. Enter your zip code into this USDA Hardiness Zone Map for more information on your area’s growing conditions and for a detailed list of vegetables that do well in your area during certain timeframes. You can also reach out to local gardening groups or the staff at garden centers and plant nurseries for advice.

Decide what you’ll be putting into the ground: seeds or transplants. Transplanting a young seedling into your garden will give you a head start on harvesting but will cost more than purchasing seeds. While transplanted veggies tend to resist more pests, some – like carrots, spinach and beets – fare better when planted as seeds.

Lettuce, beets, kale, peas, cherry tomatoes, green beans and radishes are a few safe bets for first-time gardeners.

Where should you grow?

Picking a spot for your garden is just as important as picking the vegetables to grow in it. Spend some time watching your yard to see where the sun hits the longest. Most vegetables like long exposure to sunlight, so avoid shady spots or areas with a lot of tree coverage.

Consider container gardening if you’re working with limited space! A 5-gallon bucket can easily be transformed into a perfect single-plant container for growing vegetables in a smaller yard, a balcony or even indoors.

For those in urban areas, see if your neighborhood has a community garden. Community gardens provide city dwellers with a patch of land to cultivate as their own in the concrete jungle.

Planting Your Vegetable Garden

Now that you’ve picked what you’re planting and selected a spot, it’s time to get this garden growing.

Preparing the Soil

  1. If planting directly into the ground, you’ll need to clear the area of any grass or plants currently growing there.
  2. Till the soil to make the ground loose and fertile for your vegetables.
  3. The garden beds should be 3-4 feet across – narrow enough to reach the center from either side.

Planting Your Vegetables

  1. Use a garden trowel to dig holes with enough room around them to let your plants grow. Consult this handy plant spacing chart for more information on your crops. 
  2. Carefully place your seeds or plants in the holes. Cover the plants with the same amount of soil that covered them in their pots.
  3. Water your plants to settle them into the new soil.
  4. Check the soil regularly for moisture. Water the plants about once a week or when the soil is dry a half-inch below the surface.

Conclusion

Vegetable gardening can help relieve stress while producing delicious food. How many hobbies can you say that about? Don’t be discouraged if your dinner table isn’t piling up with fresh veggies during your first harvest. Gardening involves some trial and error, so if a plant does poorly the first time, look at it as a learning experience to improve for next time. If a full-blown vegetable garden seems a bit intimidating, start greening your thumb on a smaller herb garden instead!

What you need to know about forbearance

If you are experiencing financial difficulty due to the coronavirus and you cannot make your payments,  you need to reach out to your loan’s servicer (the company you make your payment to) immediately.

If you are still able to make your mortgage payments, it is recommended that you do so.

Do not participate in a forbearance plan without asking these specific questions:

  • When will the missed payments become due?
    • Believe it or not, some servicers are waiving payments, but then asking for a ‘balloon payment’ at the end of the forbearance term. In other words, you may skip 3, 6 or 12 months of payments but then have it all due, with interest, at the end of that term.
  • Will I still acquire interest during this period?
    • Make sure that your agreement is clear on if, or how much, interest will be charged during the forbearance period. Most, if not all, of these programs are similar to when you get a furniture credit card. You don’t have to pay any interest until the term comes due.
  • Will this impact my credit?
    • If you simply stop making payments without contacting your servicer, and having an agreed upon forbearance plan in writing, you definitely WILL affect your credit negatively.
  • When will I know, for sure, that I can stop making payments and for how long?
    • Get EVERYTHING in writing. If a customer service rep tells you something on the phone, that is NOT a forbearance plan.

You can find more details in the video below.

Awards & Recognition:

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