he person on the other end of the phone had all the right lingo, and promised Anthony Curatolo that he was pre-approved to refinance with a government-backed mortgage.

The new loan would save him hundreds of dollars a month.

"They said they were authorized to give out 2 percent loans because the government was given stimulus money for them to do that with," Curatolo said. "They give you a name like they're a mortgage company, and they're not."

Curatolo, very close to falling behind on his payments, jumped at the chance. But there was a catch: First he had to make two payments totaling $1,000.

He did. Then the company disconnected its phone number.

Curatolo didn't know it, but the company had pulled a disappearing act before.

There are pages of online complaints from consumers across the country detailing the same story. Federal authorities and local consumer advocates say this scenario is the latest twist on a scam to trick desperate homeowners into forking over cash.

The scammers collect lists of homeowners who are in default on their mortgages or in foreclosure. They often say they are "authorized by the government" to provide a low-interest loan. They require money upfront, then do nothing to help the homeowner.

When someone falls for the phony pitch, they're likely to be hit by other scam artists. That's because they land on a "sucker's list," as it's called by Kevin Jackson of Hillsborough County Protection Services.

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