Did you hear the one about the convicted felon who's now in the mortgage-modification business? Seriously. He's even hired a PR rep, which is how he came to my attention.
Michael Sichenzia was released from state prison in New York in 2005 after serving a four-year sentence for mortgage fraud. A previous felony conviction, in 1988, involved the sale of modular homes on Long Island. Since 2006 Sichenzia has run a Florida loan-modification company that offers to help homeowners who are in danger of foreclosure. In a phone interview yesterday, he called himself a "consumer advocate" who can help troubled borrowers ask lenders for a loan modification, short sale or other alternatives to foreclosure.
You've gotta give the guy credit for chutzpah, but that doesn't mean you ought to give him your money and Social Security number. There's a bumper crop of people hawking foreclosure-avoidance help, often for fees of $1,000 or more. I have yet to see a shred of evidence that they can do anything for borrowers that cannot be accomplished by a nonprofit counselor approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. And struggling homeowners simply cannot take risks with their money.
High-quality, free help is available from nonprofit groups. In January I spent a day listening in on calls fielded by a counselor who works for the Homeowners Hope Hotline, 888-995-4673, and wrote about the experience for the Post's Magazine section. It can give you a glimpse of what happens after you place the call.
Our first advice would be to use all the free services available. Why pay someone for something you can get for free? Take advantage of all the county and state workshops. Call Hope Now or visit the NJ Foreclosure Mediation program well before paying someone for services.