Robert and Dolores Sexton never saw it coming: a classic real estate ruse the Bay Area retirees say has cost them the home they bought almost 42 years ago.

The couple says they quit paying their mortgage and started paying a Southern California company that promised to work with their bank to renegotiate their loan. But the company disappeared, the bank foreclosed and now an eviction notice demands the Sextons pack up and leave by 6:01 a.m. Tuesday.

And on top of one tragedy is another: Robert Sexton, a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, is battling leukemia. The chemotherapy he receives at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System seems to be helping, but he said his doctors cannot say for sure.

"They told me that if it works, it will prolong my life,'' said Sexton, a retired operating engineer at the San Francisco Water Department. "If not, they said, I should get my affairs in order.''

For now, the retired couple are frantically packing their life belongings — Dolores' beloved china, Robert's military medals and American flag — as they sort out the misfortune that has hit so hard. They are the first to acknowledge their naivete and misplaced trust and want their story to serve as a warning.

"Ever since I was a kid, my father taught me: you take a person for their word. You shake their hand and that's binding and I've always done that,'' Robert Sexton said. "That's not the way it is anymore,'' he lamented. "I just learned I cannot trust anybody.''

The saga began in the summer of 2015, after they sought to remodel the master bathroom in the 1,670-square-foot house they'd bought for $49,000 in the summer of 1975. Like many Bay Area homeowners who have seen their property values soar, the Sextons had borrowed multiple times over the years against their equity in the three-bedroom, two-bathroom home, where they had raised their two daughters.

They wanted to modify their latest loan of $770,000 to lower their 7.8 percent interest rate, but this time, they said, their bank — Wells Fargo — balked.

Not long afterward, Robert Sexton said, a letter arrived in his mailbox from a loan modification company based in Los Angeles. Sexton, who admitted he did no research on the company, called the firm, Endeavor Resources Group, and got in touch with a man who laid out a plan to modify their loan.

The man asked him for a retainer fee of a few thousand dollars, which Sexton said he would send.

"Then he told me, 'OK. This is really important: Do not make your mortgage payment,''' Sexton recalled, adding that the man said that because he was now in "litigation,'' it wasn't necessary.

"He said, "Don't worry, everything will be fine,' and I said, "OK.''

As the months went by, Sexton and his wife became worried after they could no longer contact Endeavor, or attorneys they say Endeavor had referred them to for assistance. Panicked, Sexton then asked his daughter's fiance to do some research on the company, and it didn't take long to see what was happening.

By then, Sexton estimates, he had paid the Southern California company $30,000 to $40,000 — for nothing. Records show they had a $70,000 default on their loan, and their house was placed into a public auction in Redwood City in January.

Repeated calls to a phone number listed for Endeavor Resources Group in an online White Pages directory were not returned; an email request for comment bounced back. The link to the company's web site is dead; and the last comments left by customers on the company's Facebook page were posted in March 2016.

The Sextons said all of their communication was handled by phone; they never met any of the company's employees in person.

The company was not licensed as required by the California Department of Real Estate, according to spokeswoman Joyia Emard with the California Department of Consumer Affairs.

When Sexton contacted his bank and asked if he could begin making his mortgage payments again, he said officials there told him not unless he repaid the outstanding default total first.

"The next thing I know, I got a notice in the mail saying my house had been sold,'' in March, Sexton said.

Wells Fargo said the bank tried working with Robert Sexton "for more than a year."

"Despite our efforts...we were not successful in finding an option that would allow him to retain the property or avoid foreclosure," Alfredo Padilla, a bank spokesman, said on Friday.

On April 16, Easter Sunday, as the family sat down for dinner, the Sextons said the new owner — who had bought their house at an auction for about $1.3 million — knocked on their door, introduced himself, and told them they would need to move out.

Two weeks ago, he said, a San Mateo County Sheriff's deputy showed up with a court order saying the family would have to leave their home by Tuesday morning.

"We were so stunned," Dolores Sexton said. "I started crying right away."

The story does not surprise Nicole Pitts, a senior business practice analyst at the Business Consumer Alliance, formerly the Better Business Bureau of the Southland, where the Endeavor Resources Group was apparently based.

Pitts said loan modification schemes were much more prevalent in the years following the 2008 financial crisis, but her office still receives several consumer complaints every year.

"It's sad,'' Pitts said. "They string them (homeowners) along, charging them for as long as they can. By the time a lot of these people realize the business is not doing anything for them, they are so far behind in mortgage payments that they are in foreclosure."

Sexton said he plans to contact the District Attorney's office as soon as he can assemble all the paperwork. "We'd love to do whatever we can to help them,'' said Andrea Higgens, an investigator at the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office. She said people who feel they have been defrauded can also reach out to the county's Department of Adult Protective Services.

As they spend the final hours in their home, the Sextons say they want others to learn from their mistakes.

"The thing I want want most of all -- not even to get the house back — is finding these people who scam other people and get them to pay for what they do to others,'' Robert Sexton said. "How could people do that to someone?''

Tribune Content Agency