WOODBURY - Authorities are warning homeowners who have fallen on tough times about a scheme that targets people who can't make their mortgage payments. Investigators say some mortgage modification programs being advertised online or in local papers are simply scams that aim to rip people off. Gail Garafalo says she and her family are now homeless because of such a scam. She found a company called Empire Property Solutions of Bethpage in a weekly newspaper. The firm promised to refinance the mortgage on Garafalo's Commack home, but after she signed a stack of papers and paid a hefty fee, she found out she had given over the ownership of her home to Empire.

The company took out a mortgage, drained the equity from Garafalo's home and stole the money. Her home went into foreclosure and now she and her family must leave within three weeks.Last year, there was a record number of complaints from homeowners who have been scammed. Authorities estimate that this year will be just as bad. A nonprofit advocacy group called Long Island Housing Services has teamed up with the New York Attorney General's Office to warn distressed homeowners about scam firms. They say to never pay loan modification fees up front because it's illegal.To watch a news conference on home loan modification scams, go to Optimum TV Channel 612 and select News 12 Extra.