If you have lots of equity in your home but little cash, you're a perfect target for mortgage scam artists. They target seniors because they perceive that we're especially vulnerable.

If you've fallen behind on your payments, especially if the house is going to foreclosure and notices have been put in the newspaper or filed at the courthouse, expect unscrupulous lenders to flock to your door.

Here are some ideas to keep your home safe:

? Don't deal with anyone who comes to your door offering to "rescue" your house from foreclosure, or who advertises with fliers on the telephone pole or through a mass mailing.

? Don't sign a single document that hasn't been looked at by your attorney. Call the local legal aid and make an appointment with a contract specialist before you sign anything. You could end up signing away the rights to your home but still remain responsible for the mortgage payments. Or the contract might contain language about exorbitant fees, a balloon payment or credit insurance that you don't need.

One especially nasty clause that's frequently found in fraudulent mortgage documents is a very high prepayment penalty: If you decide to go elsewhere for a new loan, you'll pay very high fees to pay off the old loan ahead of schedule.

? Don't be lured by low interest rates or adjustable mortgages. Those can be teasers to get you to sign. As the interest rate rises, you might be unable to make your payments and be at risk of losing your home. That's what many of the scammers are hoping: They'd rather have your property than the loan.

? If you're unable to make your payments, call your lender first to see if you can work out a different payment plan. Call the Department of Housing and Urban Development at 800-569-4287 if you have questions or think someone is trying to scam you.

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