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Rip-Off Alert: Counselor steals from struggling homeowners

Reported by: Marie Mortera
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Updated: 11/28/2012 8:44 am
LAS VEGAS (KSNV MyNews3) -- A woman whose job it was to help homeowners avoid foreclosure ended up stealing from her clients.

"We didn't have any kind of savings at that point … all of our savings was gone,” Pamela Hudson said. “So, I had my mother's engagement and wedding ring …"

The choice was emotional, but Hudson decided to sell her deceased mother's rings rather than lose her home in foreclosure.

"I asked my father first,” she said. “He said absolutely you need your house."

She gave the money to a housing counselor, Lori Macakanja, who said she would use it for what's called a loan modification that would make Hudson’s mortgage payments more affordable. But it didn't happen.

"In this case when the housing counselor got the money, instead of paying the mortgage to the lender on behalf of the client, she pocketed the money," said U.S. Postal Inspector Shelley Carosella.

Macakanja stole almost $300,000 from 136 clients.

"These victims often had hardships: Either they were sick or they had a divorce, they lost their job and they could not afford the mortgage anymore," Carosella said.

Hudson is one of those victims. She has multiple sclerosis. She was trying to find financial help when she went to Homefront, the non-profit agency where Mackanja was supposed to be assisting struggling homeowners.

"This was the letter that we took in to them … and brought us to being told our money was taken, and they were very sorry, and we said, ‘Aren't you going to give it back to us? You took it?"

If you are seeking a change in your mortgage, here is what you need to know:

Always pay your lender directly, never to a house counselor.

Seek a HUD-approved housing counseling agency for free help with loan modifications.

Work with your housing counselor to provide necessary documents and monitor your loan modification process.

Macakanja is serving a 72-month jail sentence and is under court order to pay more than $290,000 in restitution to homeowners.
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