Firms offering “loan modification” services are appearing across the country — some offering legitimate help, others merely a front for scams. Steering clear of crooked companies is a top priority for both Notaries approached to do loan modification-related work and consumers offered a chance to escape foreclosure — and state and federal officials are responding. In November, the FTC announced “Operation Stolen Hope,” a multi-state crackdown on fraudulent mortgage relief and loan modification schemes in cooperation with 25 state attorneys general. Lawsuits were filed against multiple firms accused of taking large advance fees from customers without delivering promised services, making false advertising claims, and otherwise misrepresenting themselves to customers. FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz urged consumers to avoid any loan modification or mortgage rescue business that asks for a large fee in advance, guarantees stopping a foreclosure or that urges customers to stop paying their mortgage company. The NNA also urges Notaries to avoid offers of work from loan modification companies that ask Notaries to collect large advance fees from customers. The state of California has banned this practice, and several other states have restricted the collection of advance fees for loan modifications to attorneys or licensed real estate professionals only.