Thieves are targeting unsuspecting homeowners by applying for loans in their names

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ATLANTA — Thieves are targeting the equity in people’s homes, stealing identities in order to apply for loans in homeowners’ names.

Channel 2 consumer investigator Justin Gray spoke with an attorney who went the extra mile to save one homeowner hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It’s so common now to do everything for refinancing your mortgage without ever having to physically go to a bank branch or even an attorney’s office and scammers are taking advantage of that convenience.

“They said, ‘Are you Samuel Helmick?’ And that always takes you back. And I said, ‘Yes. Yes, I am,’” Helmick said.

An attorney showed up out of the blue to Helmick’s house to ask him about his mortgage refinance.

But Helmick never applied for a loan. He owns the home outright.

“I said, ‘Ehhhh, not this house.’ I was stunned. I was absolutely stunned,” Helmick said.

Turns out identity thieves had obtained Helmick’s personal information, including his driver’s license and applied for what’s called a “cash-out refinance” in his name.

In a cash-out refinance the money goes to the homeowner instead of the lender.

In this case, the scammer would have gotten away with almost $450,000.

But not so fast.


The lawyer handling this refinance, Charlie Hands III, picked up on some red flags. So he tried to Zoom with the customer, who was a no-show.

The next day they went the extra mile -- or, more specifically, the extra 29 miles round trip -- to Helmick’s house.

Hands said he went to a conference in the fall, where this kind of fraud came up, and the message was: Always confirm the homeowner’s identity face to face.

“The homeowner had no idea who we were or knew anything about a refinance with us at all,” Hands said.

Helmick would have been on the hook for big payments -- more than $3,000 per month, while the thieves would have made off with nearly $500,00.

“They took the time to come to my home, knock on the door, and come on inside, and lay it all out for me. And I’ll always be appreciative of that,” Helmick said.

The people we talked to for this story would like to see a change in the law to require lenders to verify a person’s identity in person.