TAMPA — Angela Soto was having trouble making mortgage payments on the Tampa home she bought five years ago during the real estate boom.
She was afraid it might be foreclosed, so she called a company that promised to help modify her loan.
Soto, 30, paid the company $1,500, but nothing has changed since February, she said. And after listening to officials at a meeting Saturday warn against paying companies up front, she's afraid she may have been duped.
Soto joined about 200 other people who sought advice at Attorney General Bill McCollum's workshop, organized to help homeowners through the housing crisis.
They packed the courtroom at Stetson Law School's Tampa campus and jotted down notes as lawyers, real estate experts and financial advisers spoke.
Karen Jackson-Sims of the Tampa office of the Housing and Urban Development Department talked about a recent expansion of the Making Homes Affordable program.
Homeowners who are current on their payments but up to 125 percent "underwater" on their mortgages, and have mortgages currently owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, can refinance, she said.
She also encouraged homeowners to make an appointment with HUD-approved housing counselors.
That's what Soto plans to do. As her 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter snacked on candy in the exhibit area, she spoke with a HUD official.
She also plans to call the attorney general's fraud hotline to report the loan modification company.
"Something should be worked out," she said, smiling.
Tampa's town hall meeting was the first hosted by the Office of the Attorney General. McCollum said he plans to set up several more throughout the state.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.