Scammer tries to refinance house behind owner’s back, lawyer saves the day

CHARLOTTE — A local man says he was stunned when he learned that scammers tried to refinance his home in Highland Creek, according to our sister station WSOC.


Samuel Helmick says he wasn’t looking to refinance. “Oh, absolutely not. No,” he told Action 9′s Jason Stoogenke.

But someone got his personal information, including his driver’s license, and applied for refinancing in his name.

Helmick already paid off his home. So, this was what’s called a “cash-out” refinance. And that’s key because, in a “cash-out” refi, the money goes to the homeowner instead of his or her old lender. “Probably one of the reasons that may have made him interested in us,” he said.

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

But not so fast.

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The lawyer handling this refinance, Charlie Hands III, and his paralegal Devera Alston, picked up on some red flags. Plus, Hands says he went to a conference in the fall and this kind of fraud came up. The message at the conference was always to confirm the homeowner’s identity face to face.

Hands Law Firm said they tried to Zoom with him. He says the man was a “no-show ... so the very next day, we went out to the actual home.”

That’s right. They went the extra mile, or more specifically the extra 29 miles round trip, to Helmick’s house.

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

“The face of the homeowner matched the face that we had on the driver’s license that was sent to us online, but the homeowner had no idea who we were or knew anything about a refinance with us at all,” Hands said.

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“And I said, ‘Ehhhh, not this house.’ And absolutely and that’s when they proceeded to show me a copy of my driver’s license and tax return and all this information. I was stunned. I was absolutely stunned,” Helmick said.

Helmick would have been on the hook for big payments of more than $3,000 each month. He says he probably would have thought it was a scam and ignored it. So, at some point, the lender would have found him delinquent and started the foreclosure process. Eventually, someone would have figured it out. But imagine the mess to clean up, including Helmick’s credit.

“We were just doing how we were trained,” Hands said.

“They shut everything down, thank God,” Helmick said. “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.”

The case involved both a lender and broker. Obviously, they have to be pleased how this turned out.

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The broker, UMortgage, emailed Stoogenke:

“UMortgage has been recently notified of an identity theft attempt after a scammer tried to refinance a property in North Carolina. The scammer was in communication via phone and text with our team and provided all necessary documentation, including tax documents and a valid driver’s license, to qualify for the cash-out refinance. We are pleased to report that a system of checks and balances effectively prevented any financial loss to the property owner. Mortgage scams are a billion-dollar issue within our industry and it’s imperative for all parties involved to be alert and vigilant. UMortgage takes cyber security very seriously and is committed to maintaining the highest standards of integrity and security in our operations.”

Alston, Hands, and Helmick would all like to see a rule requiring lenders to verify a homeowner’s identity face to face. Stoogenke asked several government agencies if they would consider that. He didn’t hear back in time for this report.

How to protect yourself:

- This is just one more reason to freeze your credit. That way, even if the scammer has your personal information, he/she can’t do much with it.

- There’s no such thing as junk mail. Open everything. If it looks fishy, check it out. Don’t ignore it.

- If you fall victim to identity theft, click here to report it to the Federal Trade Commission.

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