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Mortgage fraud complaints quadruple in Massachusetts

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Mortgage- and foreclosure-related complaints at the Massachusetts attorney general's office quadrupled over the past two years, becoming the No. 1 reason consumers contacted the office for assistance in 2011. They took the top position from auto dealer complaints by 164. Regional offices across the Commonwealth combined to handle 983 complaints about mortgages, foreclosures and loan modifications during the year, representing a 431% leap since 2009. "I believe that addressing this foreclosure crisis is the single most important task we face in restoring a healthy economy," Massachusetts AG Martha Coakley said in a speech Wednesday before the Boston Chamber of Commerce. “This data confirms what we have known for some time – the subprime lending and foreclosure crisis is a major concern for homeowners who are often faced with losing their most valued possession,” she said. Click on the chart below, provided by the Massachusetts AG office, to see comparisons of various types of complaints the office received in 2011. In the last four years, more than 45,000 Massachusetts families found themselves in foreclosure. Coakley's office recovered more than $600 million in relief for investors and borrowers damaged by banks and investment giants that engaged in corrupt mortgage and foreclosure practices, helping to keep more than 25,400 people in their homes. The office said it returned nearly $60 million in taxpayer funds back to the Commonwealth. Coakley detached herself from negotiations of a possible multistate settlement against the five largest mortgage services. In her speech, she said she believes it is likely that a settlement will be reached and will keep "an open mind about whether the ultimate agreement makes sense for Massachusetts." But she is concerned. Publicly discussed settlement numbers have reached $25 billion in homeowner relief, a number that she said may prove illusory. Around $20 billion of the anticipated $25 billion settlement number could come in the form of loan modifications. Coakley's concern is that the $20 billion is not just a number, but also a cap. "The banks’ obligation to modify these loans only exists until they satisfy the $20 billion figure," she said. "There is no assurance that eligible Massachusetts borrowers will see their share of loan modifications before the cap is reached." "Before we sign on to any agreement, we would need assurances that eligible Massachusetts borrowers will get relief and consistent treatment from the banks," Coakley added. "That is what we mean when we talk about real accountability from the banks and real relief for homeowners." In December, AG Coakley filed the first comprehensive lawsuit addressing the foreclosure crisis by seeking to hold the five largest mortgage servicers accountable for their role in allegedly pursuing illegal foreclosures and treacherous loan servicing in the sate. The large banks acknowledge they fraudulently signed foreclosure documents – commonly known as robosigning. Coakley said she believes they also made deceptive promises to provide loan modifications and unlawfully foreclosed on homeowners without even holding the mortgages. She seeks civil penalties, restitution and other compensation from the banks. Coakley said she could not give a penalty figure for the charges she brought against the five largest mortgage servicer, but promised "it would be a lot." In the wake of the lawsuit, Ally Financial (GJM) stopped originating mortgages in Massachusetts through its correspondent and wholesale lending channels. Write to Justin T. Hilley. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHilley.

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