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Multi-Agency Crackdown on Foreclosure Rescue Scams Unveiled

Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, along with other agency leaders, announced Monday morning in a press conference a multi-agency crackdown on bad actors in foreclosure scams. The new effort aligns responses from federal law enforcement agencies, state investigators and prosecutors, civil enforcement authorities, and the private sector to protect homeowners seeking assistance under the Administration's Making Home Affordable program from criminal actors looking to perpetrate predatory schemes. The new initiative is two tier. The Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) will marshal information about possible fraudulent actors, drawing upon a variety of data available to law enforcement, regulatory agencies and the consumer protection community, in order to help financial institutions spot questionable loan modification schemes and proactively report that information to law enforcement authorities. Through FinCEN, the Treasury will also issue an advisory alerting financial institutions to the risks of emerging schemes related to loan modifications. The advisory will identify certain "red flags" that may indicate a loan modification or foreclosure rescue scam and warrant the filing of a SAR by a financial institution. "The Department of Justice's message is simple: if you discriminate against borrowers or prey on vulnerable homeowners with fraudulent mortgage schemes, we will find you, and we will punish you," said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. And with the collaborative efforts of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC),  Attorney General Lisa Madigan said it's no longer a matter of if those perpetrators will be caught, but when they will be caught. The FTC announced today five law enforcement actions and sent 71 warning letters to operations using deceptive tactics to market their mortgage loan modification and home foreclosure relief services, said Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the FTC.  "We're enforcing the law against these scam artists who are deceiving consumers while they're down." And as for homeowners, Attorney General Lisa Madigan reminds them to "stay away" from anyone who promises to save their home for money upfront. "These are almost always scams," she said. It’s a burgeoning space, and here at HousingWire we regularly receive press statements -- which we never run -- from firms that claim to be in the business of helping troubled homeowners. Some firms have even been touting the availability “loss mitigation kits” for troubled homeowners for fees ranging from $99 to $1,200. The Federal Reserve has gone so far as to begin placing advertisements in movie theatres in some of the nation’s hardest hit housing markets, warning consumers of these foreclosure aid scams. “The purpose…is to reach out to an audience that the Fed has possibly not reached before, to try and get people’s attention about mortgage scams and direct them to our website where we have tips for people to avoid these scams,” Sandra Braunstein, director of the Fed’s Division of Consumer and Community Affairs, told Reuters. The movie ads will begin their run in mid-April. Write to Kelly Curran at kelly.curran@housingwire.com. Disclosure: The author held no relevant investment positions when this story was published. Indirect holdings may exist via mutual fund investments. HW reporters and writers follow a strict disclosure policy, the first in the mortgage trade.

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