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HUD.govThe figures may be shocking, but the number of residents in Ocean, Monmouth and Middlesex counties who are facing the possibility of losing their home to foreclosure is hitting a higher level every day.

According to RealtyTrac, an online firm that tracks foreclosures nationwide, there are 4,312 homes in Ocean County, 3,714 homes in Monmouth County and 4,101 homes in Middlesex County that have foreclosure filings pending.

On Feb. 19 the Jackson Township Council sponsored a seminar to discuss the topic that has been on the mind of many people as they deal with the nation's significant economic recession. A group of about 50 residents turned out for the meeting.

"We know that everybody is running into difficult times; as we watch the news every day, it gets worse and worse," council President Mike Kafton said. "This morning I heard that about 5 million people have filed for unemployment."

Kafton said he had spoken with the Ocean County Sheriff's Office the day before and was informed that foreclosure proceedings have increased from between two and three per week to between 10 and 15 per week.

Trish Burke, the sales manager from Center State Mortgage, Freehold, said the interest rate on loans right now is about 5.5 percent. She said the firm is waiting to see how the economic stimulus plan that President Barack Obama recently signed into law will affect individuals who are looking to refinance a mortgage.

Kafton, who works in the real estate field, said the biggest issue people are running into right now is having a credit score of at least 600. He said many people are in debt and/or they owe more than the value of their home.

Presenting information to residents was Darla Keegan of Novadebt, a federal Housing and Urban Development-certified (HUD) nonprofit counseling agency that provides financial advice, suggestions and resources regarding housing, bankruptcy and credit cards to individuals who are in need of those services. The firm is headquartered in Freehold Township.

"We are here to help you with foreclosure," Keegan said. "[We keep up with] what is going on in the economy and what is impacting many people. We get phone calls every day from people who have difficult situations."

Keegan said the firm's counselors take a look at an individual's financial situation and in this way they can get a better determination on what is taking place for that person. From that point, the counselor and the client can move forward in dealing with the situation.

Several counselors from the firm were present at the meeting to assist residents. Keegan said Novadebt counselors do not tell a person what to do. They leave that responsibility up to the individual.

"We also facilitate communication with your lenders, but we don't work for any lenders. "We do [however] have contacts with many of the lenders that are out there," she said.

Keegan said many people are unaware that they can communicate with their (mortgage) lender. She said some people are afraid, ashamed, frustrated or are not knowledgeable about the situation they are facing.

"First and foremost, you should talk to your lender, whether you are current with your mortgage and foresee a problem, or if there is a delay" she said. "[On the other hand] we have calls from people who tell us there will be a sheriff's sale [of their property] in two hours."

Keegan said a counselor may be able to help a person find a solution before the problem gets worse.

"You have to realize that your lender does not know what is happening in your particular situation," she told the audience. "There may be a job loss, a medical problem, a divorce, or whatever may come up. Communication is key to being the first step to avoid foreclosure. The same holds true for credit cards and bills."

She said people who cannot get anywhere with their lender may want to contact HUD. The federal agency has an Internet Web site at

Keegan explained that the foreclosure process can begin as quickly as two months after an individual has trouble making a mortgage payment. She said some lenders have programs that can assist people who find themselves in a difficult situation.

"The lender does not want your home," she said. "There are many homes out there just sitting."

Options may include forbearance, where payments may be added to the end of the loan, while some payments may be able to be suspended or reduced. Another option may be loan modification, in which one or more terms of the loan are changed.

"Beware of scam operators offering you an easy fix, because they will take your money and not solve your problem," Keegan advised those in attendance. "Sometimes they call themselves foreclosure specialists or real estate consultants. They send letters or call you. You do not have to pay for anyone to get you out of a situation,

no matter what they guarantee.

And be careful of bailouts where homeowners surrender the title to their house, a scheme usually aimed at the elderly, or bait and switch, where homeowners think they are signing documents to make the mortgage current, but actually they are signing their house away."

She said the foreclosure process can take between 10 and 12 months, or more. She told people not to panic and to speak with their lender. Keegan told those in attendance to never sign a blank document and to not pay a fee for assistance.

Novadebt, which has offices on Willowbrook Road, Freehold Township, may be reached at 866-472- 4557 or at .

For a list of additional HUD-approved counseling agents, visit

After the meeting, Kafton said there are many people who are still working and making a good salary, but who still find themselves behind in their mortgage payments.

"Maybe the president's new financial package will help to save many of these houses from foreclosure, but we just have to wait to see how this all works out," he said.

How to protect yourself from scams

Know what you are signing. Read and understand every document you sign. If a document is too complex, seek advice from a lawyer or an approved, trusted financial counselor. Never sign documents with blank spaces that can be filled in later. Never sign a document that contains errors or false statements, even if someone promises to correct them later. Get promises in writing. Oral promises and agreements relating to your home are usually not legally binding. Protect your rights with a written document or contract signed by the person making the promise. Keep copies of all contracts you sign. Make your mortgage payments directly to your lender or the mortgage servicer. Do not trust anyone else to make mortgage payments for you. Be very careful about signing over your deed. Foreclosure scams often require you to sign over ownership of your home to a con artist or another third party. Never sign over your deed without getting the advice of your own lawyer, financial advisor, or other independent person that you know you can trust. Understand the terms of the deal you are making. By signing over your deed, you lose your rights to your home and any equity built up in the home. Report suspicious activity to the Federal Trade Commission and to your state and local consumer protection agencies. Reporting con artists and suspicious schemes helps prevent others from becoming victims.


How to find legitimate help for your financial problems

Contact your mortgage lender or mortgage servicer as soon as you think you are unable to make your mortgage payment. Lenders are often in the best position to help, especially if you are current on your loan or not seriously late on your payments. Your mortgage lender or mortgage servicer may be able to identify options to help you bring the loan current or to modify your loan. Contact a legitimate housing or financial counselor to help you work through your financial problems.
Housing counseling agencies in Monmouth County:
Affordable Housing Alliance of NJ
59 Broad St., Eatontown

225 Willowbrook Road, Freehold

Faith Fellowship CDC
732-727-9500, Ext. 1171 or 1704
Monmouth County social services agencies (Medicaid, food stamps, child support, emergency assistance, employment support):

Kozloski Road, P.O. Box 3000, Freehold, NJ 07728, 732-431-6000

Explore loan workout solutions with your lender

First and foremost, if you can keep your mortgage current, do so. But if you find you are unable to make your mortgage payments, you might qualify for a loan workout option. Check with your lender to see which option may be available. Some options may not apply to your loan if it is not insured by FHA.

If your problem is temporary - call your lender to discuss these possibilities: Reinstatement: Your lender is always willing to discuss accepting the total amount owed in a lump sum by a specific date. Forbearance may accompany this option. Forbearance: Your lender may allow you to reduce or suspend payments for a short period of time and then agree to another option to bring your loan current. A forbearance option is often combined with a reinstatement when you know you will have enough money to bring the account current at a specific time. The money might come from a hiring bonus, investment, insurance settlement, or tax refund. Repayment plan: You may be able to get an agreement to resume making your regular monthly payments, plus a portion of the past due payments each month until you are caught up.

If it appears that your situation is long-term or will permanently affect your ability to bring your account current - call your lender to discuss options: Mortgage modification: If you can make payments on your loan, but don't have enough money to bring your account current or you can't afford your current payment, your lender may be able to change the terms of your original loan to make the payments more affordable. Your loan could be permanently changed in one or more of the following ways: Adding the missed payments to the existing loan balance. Changing the interest rate, including making an adjustable rate into a fixed rate. Extending the number of years you have to repay. Partial Claim: If your mortgage is insured, your lender might help you get a one-time interest-free loan from your mortgage guarantor to bring your account current. You may be allowed to wait several years before repaying this loan. You qualify for an FHA partial claim if: Your loan is between 4 and 12 months delinquent. You are able to begin making full mortgage payments again. When your lender files a partial claim, HUD will pay your lender the amount necessary to bring your mortgage current. You must sign a promissory note, and a lien will be placed on your property until the promissory note is paid in full. The promissory note is interest-free and is due when you pay off the first mortgage or when you sell the property.

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Penguins Claim Craig Adams From Blackhawks

Penguins Claim Craig Adams From BlackhawksThe Pittsburgh Penguins added some toughness at the trading deadline Wednesday, claiming right wing Craig Adams off waivers from the Chicago Blackhawks.

Adams is expected to be in uniform when the Penguins play the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.

Adams has two goals, four assists and 22 penalty minutes in 36 games with Chicago this season. He has 37 goals in 498 career NHL games with the Blackhawks and Carolina Hurricanes.

Pittsburgh, back in position to make the Eastern Conference playoffs after winning their last four games, lost some toughness last summer when forwards Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts and Jarkko Ruutu signed with other teams following the Stanley Cup finals. General manager Ray Shero was known to be looking to add a role player or two at the deadline.

The 31-year-old Adams is in the final season of a $6 million, three-year contract and can become a free agent after the season ends.

The Penguins also swapped minor league defensemen with St. Louis, sending Danny Richmond to the Blues for Andy Wozniewski, who was assigned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (AHL). Wozniewski has played 56 games for Peoria (AHL) this season and has appeared in 77 NHL games with the Blues and Maple Leafs during his career.

Pittsburgh acquired Richmond in a trade with Chicago for right wing Tim Brent on July 17. Richmond, who at 24 is four years younger than Wozniewski, has three goals and 14 assists in 55 games with Wilkes-Barre.

The Penguins also reassigned forward Bill Thomas, a Pittsburgh native, to Wilkes-Barre. He had two goals and an assist in 11 games during his latest stay with the Penguins.

Forward Miroslav Satan, a disappointment this season, remained with the team after clearing waivers. The Penguins now have the option of sending the 34-year-old Satan to Wilkes-Barre, with the remainder of his $3.5 million salary not counting against their salary cap.

Satan has three goals in eight games since the Penguins brought in Dan Bylsma as coach, but has only 17 goals and 19 assists in 65 games. He was signed after the Penguins failed to re-sign forward Marian Hossa last summer.

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Robert Knox Harry Potter Actor Killed

Robert Knox, Harry Potter Actor KilledMan found guilty of murdering Harry Potter actor

Teenager who had just completed part in film was stabbed five times outside bar.

A knife attacker has been found guilty at the Old Bailey of murdering a teenage actor who had just completed a part in the latest Harry Potter film during a fight outside a bar last May.

Karl Bishop, 22, who had denied the charge, armed himself with two kitchen knives and lashed out at bystanders, his face "screwed up in rage", after being involved in a scuffle at the Metro bar in Sidcup, south London, earlier in the evening. He will be sentenced tomorrow.

Rob Knox, 18, who had played the part of Marcus Belby in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was stabbed five times, once fatally in a main artery, as he tried to protect his younger brother, Jamie, from Bishop's attack. He died in hospital later that evening.

Brian Altman QC, prosecuting, said: "Unhappily, his courage and his sense of duty were to cost him his life." He said Knox's life, full of promise, had been brought to an end by a "habitual knife carrier" who thought of stabbing people as an "occupational hazard". Bishop had previous convictions for knife crime.

Bishop's violent rage led him to attack Knox and a number of his friends. As he was arrested, he begged police to save him from the angry crowd that had surrounded him, then winked and smiled as he was led away. He claimed it was his victims who had been "going mad", and that it was their fault for "running into" his knife.

A police officer said Bishop showed no remorse after his arrest, saying "Yeah, sweet" when told Knox had died. He had seemed more bothered about missing a Ricky Hatton boxing match, the officer said.

Altman told the court: "This man carries knives like others carry pens in their pockets and quite happily thinks little or nothing of stabbing others as if it were some occupational hazard."

After his arrest, Bishop bragged of how he had been in prison before and jail simply meant free meals and free use of the gym.

Bishop said he had been "quite angry" about what happened the week before, when he claimed he had been punched to the floor and stamped on outside the Metro bar.

On the night of the stabbing, he said, he had not wanted to go back there but was persuaded to by his friends. He said he was "merry drunk". After getting into another fight, he went back to his home to fetch two knives.

He told the court: "I took two because two was scarier than one and I was angry at that time. I just wanted to scare whoever was down there. I wasn't really thinking that straight at the time because I was so angry, pissed off."

Bishop admitted that the "red mist" had descended and he had not cared what happened. He claimed in court to now have "big regrets" but was accused of being "not the slightest bit bothered" by the prosecution as he seemed unfazed, even belching as he gave evidence in front of the jury.

He said: "You wouldn't think people would run at someone who's got a knife. My aim was to scare people away from me and then, as they kept running at me, the knife was catching them while they kept running into it."

As well as the murder charge, Bishop was found guilty of wounding Rob's friend Dean Saunders, 23.

He was found guilty on majority verdicts of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm to Charlie Grimley, 17, and Nicky Jones, 20. He was also found guilty by a majority of wounding Andrew Dormer, 17, but cleared of wounding another friend, Tom Hopkins, 19.

Dormer had tried to disarm Bishop but was stabbed in the chest, while Jones was knifed in the hand and Grimley in the face and arm. At one point, Bishop walked up to Mr Saunders with what his victim described as an "evil grin" and stabbed him in the neck, leaving him with permanent spinal damage.

Hopkins, at the time a Southend United youth team player, helped bundle Bishop into a flower bed and subdue him. He said Bishop had "looked like a madman" as he shouted and waved his knives around.

Pc Craig Reid had told the court that there "didn't appear to be any remorse" when Bishop was told of Knox's death, but later the killer had ranted: "I'm going to miss the fucking Hatton fight."

The officer said Bishop's stabbing frenzy had left a pool of blood "as far as my arms could stretch" on the pavement.

Bishop lived with his mother and brother and said in court he had not seen his father for about 16 years. He said he had been "very angry" as a child.

At the age of 15, he faced charges for threatening a youth he knew with a knife but the allegations were dropped when he appeared in court. In another confrontation later that year outside a cab office, he slashed the same youth and his friend, across the face, leaving one needing five stitches and the other with a cut on his nose. In May 2005, he pleaded guilty to wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and causing actual bodily harm.

He served time in prison until March 2007. After his release, he worked fitting air conditioning for a few months before being made redundant, and later worked occasionally as a window cleaner.

Bishop said he would drink "quite a lot" and was "drinking to get drunk".

By contrast, his victim had already embarked on a successful career as a juvenile actor. Knox had just finished filming his part in the Harry Potter film.

A keen rugby player, he had passed his A-levels and had a supportive family behind him. He had just been chosen for a part in a forthcoming film called King Arthur. Among hundreds who attended his funeral was Rupert Grint, who plays Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter series.

Knox has received a posthumous crime-fighting award after chasing a gang of thieves from Marks & Spencer at the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent in 2007. He had just bought a new car, a VW Golf, and was described by brother Jamie as "upbeat, very cheerful, always in a happy mood". He said his brother was "very protective" of him.

Their father, Colin Knox, who works in media production, said: "It's impossible to convey the sadness and loss that we feel, but we now realise Rob touched many people's lives." He said his son was "always the first person to stand up against wrong" and "achieved so much in his short life".

He added: "I like to think he was my friend as well as my son."

Colin Knox said he hoped the fact his son had a role in the Harry Potter film would help draw attention to the scourge of knife crime. "With knives, there are no winners and only losers," he said.

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