Last year, new foreclosure filings in the state reached record highs, and today, about 192,000 mortgages in Ohio are in trouble, according to research by Policy Matters Ohio.

Last year, new foreclosure filings in the state reached record highs, and today, about 192,000 mortgages in Ohio are in trouble, according to research by Policy Matters Ohio.

Foreclosures can devastate communities by displacing families and decreasing housing values. Empty properties become urban blight and offer inviting refuges for criminals to set up shop. Services supported by property tax revenue take a hit. Before long, the fabric of a community is in tatters.

Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island perhaps said it best when he noted, "On Main Street, the recovery will begin when foreclosures stop."

The economy cannot bounce back if Americans continue to lose their homes and neighborhoods continue to struggle with the problems presented by empty properties. My office is taking action on several fronts to help combat this serious issue.

Last month, we joined the Ohio Department of Commerce to sue a California-based company that failed to live up to its agreement with the state to offer reasonable loan modifications to eligible borrowers and has offered poor customer service. That business, Carrington Mortgage Services LLC, does not make loans, but instead services them. A mortgage lender offers loans to potential homebuyers while servicers collect the mortgage payments. Servicers thus are best positioned to work with homeowners to modify loans.

However, the U.S. Department of Treasury recently noted something that has been evident to my office for some time: Most mortgage loan servicers are not living up to their commitments to help keep people in their homes. We plan to hold mortgage servicers accountable for doing business fairly in Ohio. I joined five other attorneys general to urge the federal departments of Treasury and Housing and Urban Development to impose stricter requirements on mortgage servicers and lenders. My office also recently asked Ohio's congressional delegation for additional funds for housing counseling agencies, which are on the front lines of fighting this immense problem.

In addition to shabby business practices like those of some mortgage servicers, the scam artists are out in full force, as is so often the case in tough times. Unscrupulous operators play on foreclosure fears by running rescue scams that falsely promise to negotiate with lenders or provide "special bailout funds," but after taking your money, they fail to deliver.

To combat this problem, my office has issued 25 cease-and-desist demands and filed five lawsuits against businesses suspected of operating rescue scams in Ohio. We are demanding that the companies halt all unfair and deceptive practices. The lawsuits charge them with multiple violations of Ohio law.

To provide real foreclosure assistance, my office has partnered with other state agencies to create Save the Dream, Ohio's foreclosure prevention effort. Save the Dream connects homeowners to housing counseling agencies, legal aid and mediation. In the first half of 2009, the Save the Dream hotline received 16,517 calls. We also have created Save Our Homes task forces in most counties to match homeowners with community services to help keep them in their homes, if at all possible.

Finally, we have teamed up with the courts to foster foreclosure mediation programs to avoid foreclosure orders by arranging mortgage loan workouts, where feasible.

I encourage Ohioans worried about losing their homes to call Save the Dream at (888) 404-4674 or visit www.SaveTheDream.Ohio.gov.

To report a foreclosure rescue scam, contact my office at (800) 282-0515 or at www.SpeakOutOhio.gov.

Richard Cordray is Ohio attorney general.

Richard Cordray