Zombies exist in the world outside television and movies, but not in a way that most people would expect. Unfortunately, thousands of families across the country, including in Oregon, are dealing with a financial plague that can be more devastating and subtle than an outbreak of the undead.

Numerous homeowners facing foreclosure at the beginning of the housing crisis decided it would be better to walk away from their homes, rather than try to stop repossession, says Reuters. In a best-case scenario, this could have been beneficial, as banks would have taken over ownership and relieved homeowners of mortgage debt they could not pay. However, more and more often banks have also decided it is in their best interests to walk away from properties that are low in value or otherwise not worth putting back on the market. When banks fail to complete a foreclosure, this is known as a zombie foreclosure.

Most often, servicers that send homeowners in default hundreds of notices informing them of an impending foreclosure never let them know that the bank had decided to stop the foreclosure. People who thought they no longer had an obligation to their homes now are discovering they are still liable for numerous fees, penalties, taxes and other expenses—including the mortgage they thought they’d walked away from.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has recently been listening to complaints by consumer advocates and people who have been affected by zombie foreclosures, and is participating in several task forces to address the problem. Some options that may help include the following:

  • Creating a national registry of abandoned homes and properties that have not been reclaimed by banks.
  • Streamlining and speeding the foreclosure process to quickly and effectively transfer vacant properties back to the market.
  • Creating a national standard to define abandonment.

 It remains to be seen whether new measures can be implemented to prevent more families from being affected by zombie foreclosures.