There's nothing like the hope for a potential corpse or two to bring the vultures out - and Florida has always attracted its share.
In the past, homeowners have scarcely had time to comprehend post-storm wreckage before the unlicensed "contractors" would descend to offers deals they had no intention of keeping.
The current economic hurricane is not exempt from this fly-by-night scenario.
Among the companies and professionals that offer legitimate services to homeowners facing foreclosure are some who are looking to make a quick buck off our still-twitching housing/construction-fed carcass.
The state legislature saw this coming and last year enacted laws to help protect people during this time of crisis.
Florida Statutes 501.1377, which took effect on Oct. 1, protects homeowners who are in foreclosure or nearing foreclosure from companies offering potentially fraudulent foreclosure "rescue" services, according to a statement issued Friday by Attorney General Bill McCollum's office.
The statute governs companies providing foreclosure-related rescue services including loan modification and short sale services by prohibiting an up-front fee, the release states. The law, which McCollum's office says was one of his priorities, also requires those providing such services to give homeowners the terms in writing.
Mr. McCollum's office this week filed a lawsuit against an Orlando company for allegedly not following the tenets of the new Foreclosure Rescue Fraud Prevention Act.
We commend his office for its diligence and urge distressed homeowners who might have questions to become informed as to their rights. We also urge the prompt reporting of practices that do not meet the letter of the law.
The state Attorney General's Office suggests homeowners check myfloridalegal.com/pages.nsf/Main/55BC21CB13128F728525741800481491 for additional information.
Homeowners also are advised that they can file a complaint by visiting the Attorney General's Web site at www.myfloridalegal.com or calling the fraud hotline at 1-866-966-7226.
We have one additional suggestion. Homeowners facing foreclosure should call 1-877-HUD-1515 for local homeownership counseling. HUD is a good starting point for homeowners in need of direction.
Southwest Florida has weathered other storms and staved off others looking to capitalize on times of misfortune. Proceed with caution. Do not let desperate times force desperate action.
- Breeze Newspapers