Calling a Piece of Junk Mail

mortgage spam emailI just published about junk mail that I received on my blog… but it doesn’t even compare to the piece of garbage we received in the mail today.  In fact, it was so bad, that I decided to call them to learn more about their services.

The mailer looks very official. It states “important legal information inside – please open immediately”.  No where on this POS does it disclose who this is from.  Not on the upper left corner of the envelope and nor in the actual body.

It does reference our mortgage company who originated the mortgage (Mortgage Master Service Corporation) and in the tiniest of small print at the bottom, discloses they’re not related to the mortgage company.

It goes on to say that the letter is from the “Loss Mitigation Administration Office” and that we receiving the notice because we may be eligible for “special modification program guidelines in conjunction with the New 2012 Home Modification Program… HAMP2 is an aggressive update to Obama’s original program. This new program may enable you to modify your existing home loan and reduce your monthly mortgage payments, receive interest rate reductions…without the traditional restrictions of credit history, income or employment status, equity and reserves…”

It goes on to offer a 2% fixed interest rate and says our information is “on file”… and if we don’t respond by July 13, 2012, we may not get this swell deal because “only a limited number of people can qualify”.


So… I decided to call the toll free number after googling it, did not reveal who was sending us this great offer.

The gentleman on the phone had a very pleasant, soothing voice.  He answers the phone “Loss Mitigation Department, can I help you?”

Me: Yes, I’d like to know who sent a mailer to my home regarding HAMP?

Him: [He reveals it’s a law firm – I’m not going to promote them here].

Me: Why did I receive this? I’m not behind on my mortgage? Don’t you need to not qualify for a regular refi or HARP to have a HAMP loan modification?”

Him: Our company has done searches to determine who may be at risk for a loan mod, perhaps you’re underwater? Lets say you have a $350,000 mortgage but your home is only worth $250,000.

Me: My home is not underwater and we’re not behind on our payments. I’m confused how I could qualify for a HAMP or why I would want one.

Him: Well you might want to consider a HAMP over a refinance because refi’s are so costly. Most have a 1% origination fee and 3.5% loan cost.

At this point, it’s hard for me to not totally blast him.  He’s so far from the truth…

Me: what are your fees?

Him: I really can’t say.  There’s a range depending on what you need.  Who is this?

Me: You can quote costs for refi’s but you can’t give me a range for you charge?

Him: We have a flat fee of $3700 on many of our transactions. Clients are grateful for the service we provide. We can often do better than what a home owner might when dealing with their mortgage servicer directly.

Me: How are you coming up with the fees  you’re comparing for a refi?

Him: You’re sounding like a “professional”, can I help you with a loan mod?

Me: No. You cannot. I am a mortgage originator you the fees you’re telling consumers for a refinance are way off base.

Him: Do you call on every piece of junk mail that you receive?

Me: I see we agree on something – this IS a total piece of junk mail and no, this is a first. It was so disgusting, I had to call to see who sent this to me.

If I were considering a loan mod, I would NOT select assistance by some scammy piece of junk mail. It sickens me when I think of folks who truly need help and might fall hard for something like this.

Why can’t they be upfront and disclose they’re an attorney’s firm and for $X, they’ll try to get you a loan mod.?

I’ll be sending this piece of solicitation to DFI for review.

Here’s information from DFI’s site regarding Loan Modifications and signs to watch out for.

New Predatory Scam: Mortgage Litigation Services

The subprime lending industry barfed out hundreds if not thousands of loan originators in 2008 who had a taste of the six figure lifestyle and didn’t want it to end. The predators quickly swarmed into the loan modification industry and when state regulators started clamping down, they morphed into predatory short sale negotiators like parasites steadily evolving to bypass an organism’s defenses.

halo 3 plasma pistolSo where might they go now that the Federal Trade Commission is using the Halo plasma pistol on upfront fees Jan 31, 2011? Do you think they might crawl under a rock and die? Of course not.  The newest scam is called “mortgage litigation services” and the scammers are already swarming my inbox with email spam telling me that I can make six figures a year with no experience. All I have to do is refer people to their company. So what is the new scam?  From their email marketing:

“This is not a loan modification. Mortgages can become free and clear! XYZ Legal Services has put together a turnkey system that allows you to start offering mortgage litigation to your clients in days. This turnkey system is designed to run side-by-side with your existing company. XYZ provides all the required backend services to support your sales operation and business objectives. Our focus is on providing the very best customer service and attorney services for your customers. I am very confident that we will be able to help you and I think you will quickly see why our customers find our attorneys to be the experts when it comes to helping them get their financial issues resolved. Here are just a few key components that separate XYZ from the competition:·
Provide a REAL service to homeowners
You collect NO paperwork
All you do is fill out a one-page form online
Highest Marketing Fees to Affiliates
Make a Huge Income by Helping Others

Someone with a law license please explain to raincityguide readers how this could be legal.  It looks like they want people to sign up to become an affiliate and send referrals to their company, and for that the company is going to send out a referral fee. Predators love scams where they do no work and collect a fee.  So if these ads are targeting loan originators and other people in the real estate and mortgage lending industry, it looks like the company wants referrals of consumers who are in a position to challenge their lender.

We already have a 2009 law in Washington State where the lender is required to prove they hold the note before foreclosing. I don’t see how this service can help struggling homeowners. I do see how people who will believe anything will once again be scammed out of an upfront fee before any work is performed.

Surreal Comment Spamming

I’ve been heavily hit by a spammer for the last few days and I figured I’d share the story…

Despite the fact that the spammer is using the same one line text and always links back to the same website, Akismet is having a hard time picking up this spam and has let 150 or so spam comments through today (out of over 5000 total spam comments attempts from today alone!). Nonetheless, I realized pretty early on that I could create a second line of defense by “moderating” any comments that come through with a specific phrase that is always used in the text.

It’s so bad now that for most of today, every time I hit the “delete spam” button, there is more spam already in queue.

I decided to look up the URL that was being linked to and it turned out to be quite easy to find a email of someone who owned the domain. Despite my better judgment, I decided to email this individual. I politely said that if he was comment spamming my blog, I’d appreciate it if he would stop. His response was terse but hopeful: “I’ve deleted your blog from the base. Sorry.”

That email came through about ten minutes ago (and prompted me to write this post!). Since then, I’ve already received 75 spam comments from his domain.

Part of my frustration is that I recently received another message from my host that I will need to upgrade my account because I’m using too much CPU. I’m convinced that the massive amount of spam (including the stuff that gets stopped by Akismet) is the main reason that I keep having to pay more in bandwidth costs every few months.

Moral: The select group of people who get a kick out of making life miserable for others can make hosting a blog a frustrating experience!

The Big List of RCG Plugins

My list is a little longer than Greg’s

Akismet. A must for WP blogs… I’ve complained in the past how their service is somewhat of a blackhole and I can’t seem to rescue a few of the people who leave comments on RCG from the Akismet spam filter. Nonetheless, the service catches hundreds of spam messages every moment. If I didn’t have a life, I could just keep hitting refresh on my spam filter and there would always be another spam message to delete. Matt, if you’re listening... Here are the two improvements I’d like to see. (1) A way to not have spam limited to showing only the most recent 150 spam messages. Recently, I’ve had two different people leave comments who say there were picked up by the spam filter, but because my queue had already built up to greater than 150 messages, I had no way to rescue them. When I hit the “delete all” button, I only (wrongly) reinforced that these people were spam. (2) A way to rescue people who are labeled spam from deep within the blackhole of Akismet’s database. Galen, one of RCG’s contributor’s has to go “save himself” every time he posts. This sucks! (but is better than me dealing with 450 spam messages a day!)

Exec-PHP. Allows for Admin and Editors to write PHP code within their posts… Both dangerous and powerful and the easiest way to get the Archive plugin to work.

Filosofo Comments Preview. This allows for the preview button. I wish I had time to figure out how to format the “preview” page, but I remember spending a whole evening on that one time and not making enough progress, so I just leave it unformatted. It’s ugly, but better than not having the preview option!

Gravatars. This plugin allows me to easily show the author’s photo on the beginning of every post. At one point, I tried to set this up to allow commenters to have their own gravatars (which is the more common use for this plugin), but I couldn’t get it to work with my theme.

Recent Comments. This really nice plugin lets me show the most recent comments on the sidepanel. It is highly configurable and very easy to work with. I attribute the use of this plugin to the high comment level that we get on many RCG posts because it allows everyone to easily seeing where there is “action” on the site…

GeoPress. This allows me to geocode my posts so that they show up over a map. If you haven’t seen this in action, then you’re going to have to wait a little longer. Normally, when you visit adetail page on Anna’s home search tool, a bunch of little rain drops show up that represent blog posts about that location. At the moment, no rain drops are showing up and I suspect this is because of changes to the server during my recent move and Robbie and I never noticed it was broken (until now!). It’s a very cool feature and way under-utilized by me. Note that the author mentions there is a new and improved version of the plugin here.

PhotoPress. This was top-of-the-line when I first started built RCG a year and a half ago. Since then, WP has designed a built-in photo uploaded that is better integrated with the core system. However, I’m stuck on the old photo upload program because I don’t even want to try thinking about reloading all the photos to a new system and getting everything to work. I dread thinking about the day when the PhotoPress people stop updating their code because demand has shrunk. That’s the day I’m going to be forced to hire a developer for this site!

WP-Print. Add a little printer icon next to the post and allows people to print off a clean looking version of the post. I never print articles, but I’ve heard others do, so this is meant to help save a few trees.

Role Manager. This lets me be very picky about what the different contributors can do on the site… Do I want Jon to upload photos but not publish? Do I want to give Ardell all “editor” rights except the ability to run PHP within posts? This plugin handles that kind of thing.

WP-Stats. This page provides a lot of pretty useless stats, but I installed it and have never turned it off… On the day when I decide to award free-round vacation packages to the top 10 WP contributors, I’ll use this plugin because it counts links like number of posts by author and number of comments by author.

Smart Archives. Clean, simple, smart archive.

Ultimate Tag Warrior. This this is so feature rich, I’ll never even play around with half the options on my beta site. At this point, I’ve been keeping it pretty simple and using the code to tag the bottom of blog posts and create the tag cloud in the archives.

WordPress Database Backup. A backup option without the need to go into PHPmyAdmin! Greg once mentioned that he linked my quote: “I believe real estate agents are either in marketing or broke”… Today’s version: “People running website either backup on a regular basis, or they are broke!”.

WP-Contact Form. Simple, but useful, contact form. I use it on the buyer information and seller information pages. (note: this is also the way that I monetize this blog! 😉 )

Sharing the spam – Is Zillow going to China?

[photopress:spam.jpg,full,alignright]I got an interesting piece of investor spam yesterday. This one was so interesting, I figured I share it and give somebody a good laugh or chuckle. Apparently they are talking up a company in China that has “pilfered every costly lesson learned by Rich Barton and pals… plus every breakthrough technology Microsoft gladly spent $100 million to develop their own business with optimized Rich Barton’s billion-dollar baby.”

I had lunch with some of the folks from Zillow today. Even though they know Rich Barton better than I do, they didn’t even know about this opprotunity! They also said, they wanted in on the action… 🙂

Anyway, here’s my spam for your reading enjoyment…

Rich Barton Spam

And if you figure out what exactly they’re talking about, let me know. 😉

20 million reasons to cancel AOL

Update: You can now search the AOL data from your web browser.
As promised earlier, I did some scans through the massive privacy invasion from AOL for some real state search insight. I’ll leave it to other sites to search for the tell you about the disgusting things people search for.
Not many AOL searchers are looking for “seattle real estate” in those words – in fact only 21 of the 20 million queries contained that text and those users largely went to the big Google-optimized sites like Seattle Power Search (the number one result) or the Seattle Times (the number 3 result).

AOL users found Rain City Guide through many long-tailish routes, with relevant keywords like “zilllow” (sic), “small condos,” “seattle real estate,” “earnest money recipt” (sic), and “five factors that determine if an idea is a good investment opportunity.” Guilty-conscience user 917673 came to us while searching for “sellers disclosure for condominium complex.” And User 1636230, who came to Rain City Guide after searching for “seattle real estate,” also visited Winderemere and Seattle Power Search. One searcher also found us when they searched for “dustin dustin.”
Here’s where this data goes beyond our own site (and where it gets creepier): what preceded and followed those inquisitive searches? Can we tell something about these people? Well, User 1636230’s interest in real estate was passing. They searched around for five minutes in March:

  • 2006-03-21 14:12:20 2
  • 2006-03-21 14:12:20 2
  • hometown realty executives 2006-03-21 15:30:32
  • hometown realty executives seattle 2006-03-21 15:30:41
  • hometown r.e. executives seattle 2006-03-21 15:31:05
  • hometown real estate executives seattle 2006-03-21 15:31:24
  • seattle real estate 2006-03-21 15:33:18 1
  • seattle real estate 2006-03-21 15:33:18 8
  • seattle real estate 2006-03-21 15:33:18 9
  • locks for love 2006-03-22 10:52:35 1

Then decided to look into building their own home a week later:

  • lux homes 2006-03-28 15:33:40 1
  • woodenville builders 2006-03-28 15:34:56 (4 more identical searches)

User-1636230 then went on to search for approximately 10,000 pet related items and for much sadder subjects, including for cancer drugs and incontinence.

What of guilty-conscience-User 917673? They were clearly concerned about their condo and they didn’t want to tell the buyer. Here are three of their searches (of over forty):

  • condominium disclosure by seller in los angeles
  • arbitration for selling or buying a condo
  • consequences of no disclosure from seller

Sounds like someone got a bum deal on that condo!

In looking at the other Seattle Real Estate searches, it seems that the adage that buyers and sellers go with the first agent they talk to does not apply to searches (no big surprise here). Searchers go all over the internet and leave and come back to the same search repeatedly. If they’re as committed as User 917673, they use lots of slightly different word combinations. What I found interesting was watching users hit a site that they are interested in, then go on to search for that company’s or person’s name to see if they can find some background (so it is good to be on a first name basis with the search engines).

I only found 668 occurrences of “cancel AOL.” I suspect and hope there will be a lot more this week.

Real estate search patterns and AOL users

Yesterday AOL proudly announced the release of 20 million web queries from 650,000 users (screenshot), with each user “anonymized,” but identified by a unique ID. This is appalling – it means that potentially thousands of social security numbers and email addresses are now free for spammers and thieves to harvest, along with a lot of other personally identifying information. Think about what you search for – email addresses, people’s addresses, business secrets and even social security numbers come to mind. AOL quickly realized their mistake and pulled the plug, but not before the dataset had taken on a life of its own.

So, spammers and thieves are having a field day, but now that it’s out, we might as well use it for educational purposes. It’s a big, unwieldy file, but I’ll try to post some real estate search patterns by tomorrow. If you’re hoping to do your own analysis on this dataset, I wager that there will be a nice web interface for you to use within a week (Consumerist thinks so too). I’ll let you know when it pops up.
More on the ramifications of the release at TechCrunch. If you’re going to cancel your AOL account, good luck.