Armen Keteyian is the chief investigative correspondent for CBS News.
They could have been your brother or sister, aunt or uncle. Instead they saw themselves as victims. Ordinary folks who found themselves under extraordinary financial pressure, so desperate they made their way to the Metropolitan Money Store (MMS) in Maryland. Only to be scammed, they said, by the very people who promised to help.
In a suburban Maryland hotel I sat around a banquet table with Karen, David, George, Angel and Maureen and listened to their tales of financial woe. How in their time of need they turned to a fellow African-American from the community, Joy Jackson, and the people at the MMS to solve their credit problems and save their homes from foreclosure, only to see Jackson, they charge, steal their homes and bury them deeper into debt.
You wanted to cry. Some did. I wondered how Jackson could sleep at night knowing full well the number of lives she had ruined. I was looking at five.
Unfortunately, they're hardly alone. Foreclosure rates are hitting record highs and right along with them so are hundreds of scams perpetrated by con artists masquerading as mortgage brokers or financial consultants offering "foreclosure rescue."
More often than not these days there's no rescue here, folks, only the opportunity for some unscrupulous operators to strip the equity out of your house and leave you crying by the side of the road. So a word to the wise: if you find yourself in desperate straits, in danger of losing your home, don't compound your problems by buying into these scams. Experts says the best advice is to call your lender and try to negotiate a payment schedule you can afford, or seek out the consultation of a reputable financial advisor or lawyer.
Joy Jackson made a living, a real good living singing a "don't worry, we're here to help you, trust us, we'll take care of it" tune. Now the Metropolitan Money Store is out of business, the company is under investigation by the state, and is the subject of a huge class action lawsuit charging "the single largest mortgage scam in Maryland history."
Jackson and her husband Kurt Fordham, also implicated in the scheme, are nowhere to be found. What's left are everyday people like Karen, David, George, Angel and Maureen, brothers and sisters who trusted far too much, and so far have received nothing but heartache in return.