FOX13 investigates how a simple clerical error could have cost a Mid-South couple their home

WATCH: FOX13 investigates how a simple clerical error could have cost a Mid-South couple their home

Brenda and James Townsend say their house payments have been pretty predictable over the years.

Payments for their Memphis home have always hovered around $600 per month -- that is until they got a shocking bill in the mail in March.


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“What was going through your head when you opened that bill and saw your mortgage was almost three times as much as it usually is?” FOX13 Investigative Reporter Leah Jordan asked Brenda Townsend.

“No, we cannot afford that. We cannot afford that. We live on disability. We cannot afford that,” she said.

The Townsends’ bill skyrocketed – it went from $604.93 to $1,719.54.

“I was very upset about it. I’m still trying to call, trying to see what’s going on, and not getting any information,” Townsend said.

Jordan spent hours organizing the Townsends’ past bills, looking at their current home owner’s insurance policy, and sifting through property tax information.

That’s when she decided to call the mortgage company, Mr. Cooper, herself. With the Townsends’ permission, she was authorized on their account to be able to speak with the company about their bill.

“Tax for county and city put together was going to be $6,281.33, so there was an increase in the taxes… yeah, there was a really big increase in the taxes,” a Mr. Cooper customer service representative told Jordan.

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Jordan called several times and was told by different representatives that Shelby County property taxes had skyrocketed.

But Shelby County taxes haven’t gone up recently, and Jordan was getting different county tax figures from different representatives – so she turned to an expert.

“What I can see is there’s a huge issue with the payout towards the county taxes and that seems to be our issue,” Ryan Guess said.

Guess is the Vice President Mortgage Loan Officer at Triumph Bank Home Loans.

He took the time to pore over documents with Jordan, and that’s when they found an incredibly simple but potentially detrimental error.

“They moved the decimal over. Look, look… so I was right, it was the decimal. Look at estimated property taxes. They slide the decimal over to the right one spot, and there’s your difference,” Guess said.

The Shelby County Assessor of Property website shows Townsend’s home has an estimated property tax of $582.19.

But the Mr. Cooper bill shows they now owe $5,821.90 to their escrow account – meaning either a decimal was moved or an extra zero was added.

This could have led to financial demise, Guess said.

“If you don’t have anybody to go to, you could be like, ‘oh my gosh, this really did happen,’ and you could lose your home,” Guess said.

After explaining the error to a Mr. Cooper representative, their customer care department assured Jordan they submitted a research request on the issue. They said they’d reach back out with an update on or before May 14.

Nobody knows if the mistake happened on Shelby County’s part or on Mr. Cooper’s.

Guess said we will likely never know, as he doubts either side would admit fault to such a mistake due to liability issues. No matter if it was a human error or perhaps a printing error, things could have turned ugly.

“If the Townsends did lose their home and sued, they would win,” Guess said.

It’s a mistake that could happen to anyone. So how do you make sure it doesn’t happen to you?

“They need to check their taxes, for city and county, depending on where you live,” Guess said. “I also recommend people check up on their homeowner’s insurance once a year.”

Guess said people can save hundreds of dollars simply by shopping around and switching homeowner’s insurance occasionally.

Getting familiar with property assessor websites will ensure you know what your taxes are supposed to look like, so you’ll know when an error has been made.

Most importantly, Guess recommends people check their statements monthly, and not just at the end of the year. Because the Townsends check theirs diligently, they saved themselves from a potentially life-altering situation.