RALEIGH, N.C. (Legal Newsline) -- North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper on Thursday announced consent judgments against two companies that allegedly charged illegal fees to help homeowners lower their mortgage payments and avoid foreclosure.

This month, Cooper filed lawsuits against the Charlotte-based Community Mortgage Assistance Program and the Wilmington-based Tidewater Financial for allegedly charging illegal advance fees for mortgage loan modification services and failing to deliver.

In North Carolina, it is illegal to charge upfront fees for loan modification or foreclosure assistance services.

"Schemes like these promise help but almost always fail to deliver," the attorney general said in a statement. "People pay steep upfront fees but usually get little or no meaningful help in saving their homes."

Under the terms of one consent judgment, Tidewater Financial and Elaine Madej, the company's owner, must pay $8,200 in refunds and are barred from charging illegal advance fees and any future unfair or deceptive practices that violate state law.

As part of the other consent judgment, Community Mortgage Assistance Program and Koy Lynn Chiu, the company's owner, must pay $4,000 in refunds and are banned from providing foreclosure assistance or mortgage loan modification services in North Carolina.

If either of the defendants violate the court orders, they would owe $30,000 or more in civil penalties.

In the last five years, about 1,200 consumers submitted complaints to Cooper's office about foreclosure assistance and loan modification schemes. Cooper's office took 17 foreclosure scammers to court and won more than $1.6 million in refunds, penalties and costs.

"If you're having trouble paying your mortgage, seek out free, qualified help instead of wasting your time and money on a scam," the attorney general said.

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