The Federal Trade Commission today announced two new law enforcement actions in a continuing crackdown on mortgage foreclosure rescue and loan modification scams, bringing to 22 the number of these cases the Commission has filed since the housing crisis began. The FTC also announced developments in similar pending mortgage-related actions.
“Today’s challenging economy presents an opportunity for con artists who prey upon financially distressed consumers. The Federal Trade Commission and our state and federal partners will continue to bring law enforcement actions to stop this insidious fraud,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said. “If you’re worried about keeping your home, avoid any company that asks for a large fee in advance, guarantees that they’ll stop a foreclosure or modify a loan, or tells you to stop paying your mortgage company and to pay them instead.”
The FTC’s announcement accompanied a meeting of federal and state officials including Chairman Leibowitz, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Attorney General Eric Holder, Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, and the state attorneys general from eleven states (Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington). These federal and state officials met in Washington, D.C., to discuss emerging trends and ongoing efforts against fraud in the mortgage marketplace. In addition to law enforcement, the FTC discussed its ongoing rulemaking proceeding involving mortgage modification services and continuing efforts to educate consumers about avoiding mortgage-related scams.
In today’s two new announced FTC actions, the defendants allegedly falsely claimed that they would obtain a mortgage modification in virtually all cases. According to the FTC’s complaints, after charging homeowners large up-front fees, the defendants often did little or nothing to help them renegotiate their mortgages or stop foreclosure. The FTC seeks to stop the defendants’ deceptive claims and make them forfeit their ill-gotten gains.
Nations Housing Modification Center and its principals allegedly violated the FTC Act and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule by misrepresenting themselves as a federal government agency or affiliate and falsely claiming that, in return for a $3,000 fee – half due up-front and half due two weeks later – they would obtain mortgage modifications that would make consumers’ loan payments substantially more affordable in virtually every instance. According to the FTC, the defendants also falsely claimed a 90 percent success rate, that only selected customers meeting certain qualifications were offered a loan, and that they had attorneys and forensic accountants on staff. In fact, the FTC alleges that very few homeowners got modifications, the defendants accepted advance fees for services from all applicants, and they had neither lawyers nor accountants on staff.
According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants solicited consumers by mail designed to look as if it came from a federal government agency, deceptively stating, “a bill has been passed by Congress” that “allows the Nations Housing Modification Center to provide relief for homeowners that are delinquent on their mortgage through the Nations Home Affordable Modification Program.” The defendants also allegedly made misleading statements on their Web site and with consumers who called their toll-free number. The complaint alleges that consumers were misled because the defendants’ promotion is very similar to the real government “Making Home Affordable” program that provides free mortgage loan assistance.
The defendants are Federal Housing Modification Department, Inc., doing business as Nations Housing Modification Center and Loan Modification Reform Association, and Michael A. Trap, Glenn S. Rosofsky, and Bryan P. Rosenberg. The Commission vote to file the complaint was 4-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on September 16, 2009.
The FTC appreciates the assistance of the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the office of Jim Freis, Director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the office of Bonnie M. Dumanis, District Attorney, County of San Diego, California, and the Washington, D.C. Division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service the in this matter.
Infinity Group Services and its president are charged with violating the FTC Act by falsely representing that they would obtain a loan modification in all, or virtually all, instances; that they would give full refunds if they failed to do so; and that they would obtain loan refinancing for an up-front fee of $995.
According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants’ radio ads and Web site urged consumers to call a toll-free number. Once consumers called, the defendants’ sales personnel promised that, in return for the up-front fee, the company would help them modify their mortgage loans through the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Hope for Homeowners program. The defendants claimed a high success rate and offered a full refund if they failed. The FTC alleges that the company often failed to obtain loan modifications and either failed to answer or return consumers’ telephone calls or update them about their status. When consumers were able to contact the defendants, they were falsely told that negotiations were proceeding smoothly or that lenders had caused a delay. In many instances, consumers received refunds only after repeatedly complaining to the FTC, the California Attorney General’s Office, or the Better Business Bureau.
The FTC’s complaint further alleged that the defendants also offered mortgage loan refinancing for a “flat fee” of $995 but then sought additional fees ranging from $2,000 to $15,000. In other instances, consumers were led to believe that they had closed on their loans but were later told by the defendants that the loan would not be funded. According to the complaint, the defendants’ Web site stated that there were no hidden costs, but a fine-print footnote stated, “Rates, Fees and Terms are subject to change.”
The defendants are Infinity Group Services, also doing business as IGS, Hope to Homeowners, ASK IGS, and ASK IGS, Inc., and the company’s president, Kahram Zamani. The Commission vote to authorize staff to file the complaint was 4-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Southern Division, on August 26, 2009.
The FTC also announced developments in four previously filed foreclosure rescue cases:
The FTC has obtained a stipulated federal court order barring Lucas Law Center and its principals from misrepresenting their services and charging up-front fees. The defendants allegedly used an attorney to circumvent California prohibitions against receiving a fee before providing any services. In addition to falsely representing that they would obtain mortgage loan modifications, the defendants allegedly told some homeowners to stop paying their mortgage in order to pay the defendants’ fees of up to $3,995.
The order announced today bars the defendants’ allegedly deceptive practices, pending a trial, and requires them to disable Web sites offering their services and to note the FTC’s lawsuit and the order on the Web sites. The order also requires domain name registrars to prevent any changes to the defendants’ Internet domain name registrations. The order names a permanent receiver over the corporate defendants, extends an earlier asset freeze, and bars the defendants from filing for bankruptcy without the court’s permission. The FTC ultimately seeks consumer restitution and a permanent bar on the defendants’ deceptive practices.
The defendants are LUCASLAWCENTER “INCORPORATED,” Future Financial Services, LLC, Paul Jeffrey Lucas, Christopher Francis Betts, and Frank Sullivan. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Southern Division, on July 7, 2009. (see July 15, 2009, press release http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/07/loanlies.shtm) The stipulated order was entered on August 24, 2009.
The FTC has obtained a preliminary injunction halting the allegedly deceptive practices of United Credit Adjusters Inc., The Loan Modification Shop, Ltd., and their principals, and freezing their assets, pending a trial. The Commission recently filed an amended complaint in this matter, adding as defendants The Loan Modification Shop, Ltd. and Casey Lynn Cohen, also known as Casey Lynn Collins, alleging that they and one of the original defendants, Ezra Rishty, misrepresented that they would help consumers obtain a mortgage loan modification or stop foreclosure in all or virtually all instances.
The FTC’s original complaint, filed in February 2009, charged seven corporate and three individual defendants with falsely promising to remove negative information from consumers’ credit reports (even information that is accurate and current), charging an up-front fee, and failing to provide written disclosures. (see March 17, 2009, press release http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/03/unitedcredit.shtm.) The original defendants are United Credit Adjusters, Inc., doing business as United Credit Adjustors and UCA; United Credit Adjustors, Inc., d/b/a United Credit Adjusters and UCA; United Counseling Association, Inc., d/b/a UCA; Bankruptcy Masters Corp., National Bankruptcy Services Corp., Federal Debt Solutions, Ltd., United Money Tree, Inc., and Ahron E. Henoch, Ezra Rishty, and Gerald Serino, also known as Jerry Serino.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the amended complaint was 4-0. The amended complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey on August 4, 2009. The court entered a preliminary injunction as to all of the defendants on September 1, 2009.
The FTC has obtained preliminary injunctions halting the allegedly deceptive practices of Loss Mitigation Services and its principals, pending a trial. Primarily through direct mail solicitation, the defendants allegedly targeted consumers whose mortgage payments have increased, who have made late payments, and whose homes were in foreclosure. They charged up to $5,500 in advance and promised that a loan modification was assured or virtually assured if consumers hired them. The defendants also misrepresented that they were a department of, or affiliated with, the consumer’s lender or mortgage servicer. In many cases, they failed to obtain loan modifications for consumers, some of whom lost their homes while waiting for the promised results.
The defendants are Loss Mitigation Services, Inc., Synergy Financial Management Corporation, doing business as Direct Lender, and Dean Shafer, Bernadette Perry, and Tony Perry. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on July 13, 2009. (see July 15, 2009, press release http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/07/loanlies.shtm) The litigated preliminary injunction as to the corporate defendants and the stipulated preliminary injunction as to the individual defendants were filed on August 19, 2009.
The FTC has filed an amended complaint in its action pending against Hope Now Modifications, LLC, adding as defendants Michael Kwasnik, Esq. and The Law Firm of Kwasnik, Rodio, Kanowitz & Buckley P.C. The original complaint, filed in March 2009, alleged that the defendants misled consumers about their ability to provide mortgage loan modification and foreclosure relief or to provide refunds if they failed to do so, and misrepresented that they were affiliated with, or part of, the HOPE NOW Alliance, a non-profit organization endorsed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The amended complaint also alleges violations of the Telemarketing Sales Rule.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the amended complaint was 4-0. The complaint and amended complaint were filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New
Jersey on March 17, 2009, and September 14, 2009, respectively. (see March 24, 2009, press release http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/03/newhope.shtm)
The FTC asks homeowners to report foreclosure rescue and mortgage modification scams to FTC.gov or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP. The FTC makes those complaints available to federal, state, and local law enforcement through the Consumer Sentinel Network. Homeowners in distress can get free help from the Homeowner’s HOPE Hotline 888-995-HOPE (4673), which connects homeowners to HUD-certified housing counselors.
In addition to the FTC’s law enforcement efforts, the agency has initiated a rulemaking proceeding to address the proliferation of companies offering mortgage modification services to determine whether new rules could be useful to protect consumers. The FTC also launched new initiatives to educate consumers on avoiding these scams. For example, the Commission has released a video, “Real People. Real Stories,” featuring people targeted by foreclosure rescue scammers sharing lessons learned from their experiences. The FTC is distributing the video, and a version in Spanish, to more than 5,000 housing counseling and consumer protection organizations around the country, and posting them at FTC.gov/yourhome and YouTube.com/FTCVideos. The Commission’s mortgage-related resources are available at www.ftc.gov/moneymatters.
NOTE: The Commission authorizes the filing of a complaint when it has “reason to believe”
that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendants have actually violated the law.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,500 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.