Federal and State Agencies Target Mortgage Foreclosure Rescue and Loan Modification Scams
July 15, 2009
FTC Leads “Operation Loan Lies” to Stop Fraud and Help Distressed Homeowners
Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz, joined by California Attorney General Jerry Brown, today announced Operation Loan Lies, a coordinated national law enforcement effort to crack down on mortgage modification scams. The operation involves 189 actions by 25 federal and state agencies against defendants who deceptively marketed foreclosure rescue and mortgage modification services. The FTC actions, which affect consumers throughout the nation, are being announced in southern California, where the scams originated.
“These con artists see the high foreclosure rates as an opportunity to prey on people in distress,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said. “They promise to rescue homeowners in troubled financial waters, but after they take their money they throw them an anchor instead of a lifeline. People facing foreclosure should avoid any company or individual that requires a fee in advance, guarantees to stop a foreclosure or modify a loan, or advises the homeowner to stop paying the mortgage company.”
The FTC announced four lawsuits, bringing to 14 the number of mortgage foreclosure rescue and loan modification scam cases the Commission has brought since April. Twenty-three state attorneys general and other agencies are participating in the operation, taking action against 178 companies engaged in these types of deception. The FTC also announced a settlement in a lawsuit filed last November.
The FTC charged that the defendants falsely claimed that they would either obtain a mortgage loan modification or stop foreclosure, or both, and that some of the defendants falsely represented that they would give consumers refunds if they failed to do so. After charging consumers the equivalent of one month’s mortgage payment or more in advance, these companies often did little or nothing to help homeowners renegotiate their mortgages or stop foreclosure. After failing to provide the promised services, the defendants that promised refunds did not honor those promises. In each case the FTC is asking the court for consumer redress and a permanent bar on the deceptive practices. The FTC would like to thank the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) of the Department of the Treasury and the Special Inspector General of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIG-TARP) for their invaluable assistance in these cases.
The FTC also released “Real People. Real Stories,” a three-and-a-half minute video about keeping your home. It features 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 FTC and the states of California and Missouri charged that US Foreclosure Relief falsely claimed years of experience and a high success rate and promised quick results. Instead, homeowners paid the defendants thousands of dollars for services they never received. The FTC also charged the defendants with violating the FTC’s Do Not Call Rule by calling consumers on the National Do Not Call Registry, and California and Missouri charged them with violating state laws that prohibit charging advance fees for foreclosure consulting services. The court immediately barred the practices and froze the defendants’ assets, pending a hearing.
Lucas Law Center allegedly used an attorney to circumvent state prohibitions against receiving a fee before providing any services; the defendants charged up to $3,995 in advance. In addition to falsely representing that they would obtain mortgage loan modifications, the defendants told some homeowners to stop paying their mortgage in order to pay the defendants’ fee. Consumers obtained promised refunds only after repeated complaints to the Better Business Bureau, the California Attorney General, the State Bar of California, or local criminal authorities. The court immediately barred the practices and froze the corporate defendants’ assets, pending a hearing.
Loss Mitigation Services marketed 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 FTC alleged that Internet company Apply2Save charged consumers up-front fees of up to $995, claiming they could obtain a loan modification in 30 to 90 days. In fact, they did not obtain loan modifications for most consumers and were unable to stop foreclosures. In most cases, the defendants failed to contact or follow-up with consumers’ lenders. Consumers waited months with no action on their loans, while the defendants lied and told them that the lenders had lost their papers. The defendants have agreed to a court order barring further unlawful practices, pending trial.
In addition to these cases, the FTC reached a settlement with Foreclosure Solutions, LLC and Timothy Buckley, who claimed that, for a fee often exceeding $1,000, they would stop foreclosure (see press release dated April 29, 2008). Many consumers who paid the fee ultimately lost their homes, and others avoided foreclosure only through their own efforts. The settlement order prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting that any foreclosure can or will be stopped, postponed, or prevented, or the likelihood that these results will be obtained; the degree of past success of any efforts to achieve these results; the likelihood that a consumer will receive a full or partial refund if these results are not obtained; an ability to help all consumers, regardless of their individual circumstances; the number of satisfied customers or customer complaints; the terms of any refund or guarantee; and any other fact material to a consumer’s decision to purchase a foreclosure rescue service.
The order also bars the defendants from misrepresenting material facts in the sale of any good or service. In addition, the defendants are prohibited from selling or otherwise disclosing personal information about anyone who provided them with personal information. The order imposes an $8.5 million judgment that will be suspended upon turnover of approximately $5,000 in cash and other property, including the surrender of any net proceeds from the sale of five houses. The full judgment will be imposed if the defendants are found to have misrepresented their financial condition. The order also contains record-keeping and reporting provisions to allow the FTC to monitor compliance.
Operation Loan Lies follows an April 6, 2009, announcement by FTC Chairman Leibowitz, Attorney General Eric Holder, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan that they would step up enforcement efforts against those who prey on homeowners in distress. Since then, when the FTC announced five similar foreclosure rescue law enforcement actions, the Commission has brought five more cases:
- FTC v. Sean Cantkier, Scot Lady, Jeffrey Altmire, Michael Haller, Lisa Roye, Alan LeStourgeon, Kean Lee Lim, Greg Rivera, and Neil Sperry
- FTC v. Dinamica Financiera LLC, Soluciones Dinamicas, Inc., Valentin Benitez, Jose Mario Esquer, and Rosa Esquer
- FTC v. Brian D’Antonio; The Rodis Law Group, Inc.; American’s Law Group; and The Financial Group, Inc.
- FTC v. Freedom Foreclosure Prevention Specialists, LLC; Loss Mitigation Training Centers of America, LLC; Jeffrey C. Segal; and Michael R. Workman
- FTC v. Federal Loan Modification Law Center, LLP; Anz & Associates, PLC, Venture Legal Support, PLC; LegalTurn, Inc. (a/k/a Legal Turn, Inc.); Federal Loan Modification, LLC; Federal Loan Modifications; SBSC Corporation; Nabile “Bill” Anz; Boaz Minitzer; Jeffrey Broughton; and Steven Oscherowitz
In the four FTC cases announced today, the Commission vote to issue each complaint was 4-0. US Foreclosure Relief, Lucas Law Center, and Loss Mitigation Services were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Apply2Save was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho; the FTC acknowledges the assistance of the State of Idaho Attorney General’s Office.
These cases named the following defendants:
- US Foreclosure Relief used eight aliases – U.S. Foreclosure Relief, Lighthouse Services, Pacific Shore Financial, California Foreclosure Specialists, H.E. Service Company, Safe Harbor, Pomery & Associates, and Homeowners Legal Assistance. Other defendants are George Escalante, Cesar Lopez, and Adrian Pomery, Esq.
- Apply2Save – Apply2Save, Inc., Sleeping Giant Media Works, Inc., and Derek Oberholtzer.
- Lucas Law Center – LUCASLAWCENTER “INCORPORATED,” Future Financial Services, LLC, Paul Jeffrey Lucas, Christopher Francis Betts, and Frank Sullivan.
- Loss Mitigation Services – Loss Mitigation Services, Inc., Synergy Financial Management Corporation (d/b/a Direct Lender), Dean Shafer, Bernadette Perry, and Tony Perry.
- In Foreclosure Solutions, the Commission vote to issue the stipulated final order was 4-0. The order was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division.
FTC Settlement Orders Ban More Than A Dozen Marketers from Selling Mortgage Relief Services; Repeat Offender Ordered to Pay $11.4 Million for Contempt
June 17, 2010
As part of the agency’s continuing crackdown on scams that prey on financially distressed homeowners, the Federal Trade Commission announced legal actions against more than a dozen marketers accused of pitching bogus mortgage modification or foreclosure relief services.
FTC settlement orders ban 16 marketers from the mortgage modification or foreclosure relief business. The promoter of a similar scam has been ordered to pay $11.4 million for flouting a previous court order. And, in a new action, the FTC has charged another online marketing operation with masquerading as a government mortgage assistance program.
The FTC settled with the following defendants, all of whom charged consumers up-front fees and made false promises that they could get their loans modified or prevent foreclosure:
Making Home Affordable. The FTC alleged that the defendants impersonated MakingHomeAffordable.gov, a federal government Web site that helps eligible homeowners refinance or modify their mortgages. Defendants Sean Cantkier, Michael Haller, Alan LeStourgeon, Greg Rivera, Lisa Roye, and Jeffrey Altmire bought advertising links on the results pages of Internet search engines, and consumers looking for “making home affordable” were diverted to commercial Web sites that pitched loan modification services or sold consumers’ personal information to marketers of such services. (7/10/2009 release http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/07/homeafford.shtm) The defendants will have to give up their ill-gotten gains, ranging from $1,523 to $29,179. Separately, the Commission authorized and the court approved the addition of two counts to the complaint against Scot Lady and dismissed Kean Lee Lim as a defendant. The documents were filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Federal Loan Modification Law Center. Defendants Nabile (“Bill”) Anz, Federal Loan Modification Law Center LLP, Anz & Associates PLC, Venture Legal Support PLC, and Jeffrey Broughton settled FTC charges that they hawked their so-called “Federal Loan Modification program” in a national advertising campaign targeting financially distressed homeowners. They charged up to $3,000, much of which they required up-front, but Federal Loan Modification often failed to live up to the promised results, according to the FTC’s complaint. (06/26/2009 release http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/06/fedloanmod.shtm) In addition to the ban on selling mortgage relief services, the settlement order against Anz, Federal Loan Modification Law Center, Anz & Associates, and Venture Legal Support imposes a $10.8 million judgment, and the order against Broughton imposes a $11.1 million judgment. The judgments are suspended based on their inability to pay. The full judgments will become due immediately if they are found to have misrepresented their financial condition or receive any money from the remaining defendants. The order was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The FTC continues to pursue its case against five other defendants.
Apply2Save. Derek R. Oberholtzer, Apply2Save Inc., and Sleeping Giant Media Works, Inc. allegedly charged consumers up to $995 in advance for promised mortgage loan modification services. Once they were paid, they often failed to answer or return consumers’ telephone calls and sometimes falsely blamed delays on lenders, even though they had made little or no effort to contact lenders, the FTC charged. Most consumers who got loan modifications or avoided foreclosure did so only through their own efforts. (7/15/2009 release http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/07/loanlies.shtm) The defendants have filed for bankruptcy. The order imposes a judgment of more than $4 million, which is suspended based on their inability to pay. The full judgment will become due immediately if they are found to have misrepresented their financial condition. The order was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho.
New Hope Modifications. Brian Mammoccio and Donna Fisher have settled charges that they falsely claimed they could obtain mortgage loan modifications for consumers in all or virtually all cases, falsely promised a money-back guarantee, and masqueraded as part of the federally-endorsed HOPE NOW Alliance mortgage assistance network. According to the FTC complaint, in many cases, after consumers paid up-front fees, the defendants failed to return their phone calls, or falsely told them that negotiations were proceeding smoothly. In many instances, consumers learned from their lenders that the defendants had not contacted them. (3/24/2009 release http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/03/newhope.shtm)
In addition to the ban on selling mortgage relief services, the settlement order imposes a judgment of almost $3.9 million, which will be suspended when the defendants surrender their assets as specified in the order. The full judgment will become due immediately if they are found to have misrepresented their financial condition. The order was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.
The $11.4 million contempt order against Bryan D’Antonio and three companies he controls, The Rodis Law Group Inc., America’s Law Group Inc., and The Financial Group Inc., came at the request of the FTC, which charged that operators of the scam had falsely claimed they would stop foreclosures and negotiate lower mortgage interest rates, monthly payments, and principal balances. Promoters of the scam claimed a 100 percent success rate and wrongly advised consumers to pay them instead of making mortgage payments. The FTC alleged that homeowners got few, if any, loan modifications, and many people lost their homes to foreclosure after paying them up to $5,500. The operators also falsely claimed that attorneys would check consumers’ loan documents for fraud and other lending violations that they would use as leverage in negotiating loan modifications, according to the complaint.
In May 2009, the FTC charged the defendants with violating a 2001 order that banned D’Antonio from telemarketing and misleading consumers about goods or services. The FTC obtained the 2001 order against D’Antonio and his former company, Data Medical Capital Inc., for operating a work-at-home medical billing opportunity scheme. D’Antonio also pleaded guilty to mail fraud for his involvement in that scam and served almost three years in prison. In addition to the financial sanctions against D’Antonio and the three companies, the court barred him from making misleading statements about refunds, exchanges, and total costs or quantity. The FTC has collected more than $1 million from the defendants’ available assets thus far, and will refer the remainder of the $11.4 million judgment to the Department of the Treasury for collection. The FTC has set up a consumer information line at 1-888-398-8205.
Fedmortgageloans.com. The FTC has charged Dominant Leads LLC, MAD TJ Holdings LLC, James Rambadt, Thomas Hayes, and James Kane with misrepresenting that the mortgage assistance and debt relief programs they are marketing are affiliated with the federal or state government, and that consumers may be eligible for a federal or state loan modification or debt relief program. Some of the defendants’ Web sites use logos similar to the federal government’s MakingHomeAffordable.gov logo, and many of their sites feature official government agency seals or logos and links to federal government Web sites. When consumers seeking mortgage assistance or debt relief services call the toll-free numbers on the defendants’ Web sites, they are connected to other companies that sell supposed mortgage assistance relief or debt relief services for a fee. The FTC seeks to stop the defendants’ illegal practices and make them forfeit their ill-gotten gains. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on June 16, 2010.