Florida AG Likens Mortgage Fraud to "State of Emergency"
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is calling on several state agencies and associations -- including the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Office of Financial Regulation, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Florida Bar -- to develop what he called "a cooperative approach" to the state’s widepsread mortgage fraud crisis. McCollum's office has received hundreds, if not thousands, of complaints on various issues related to mortgage fraud including criminal fraud and foreclosure rescue fraud, he said. “This mortgage fraud crisis is similar to a state of emergency –- it will take an all-hands-on-deck approach between our state’s agencies to effectively address our citizens’ concerns,” said McCollum in a press statement released by his office earlier this week. “We must work together if we are going to make a difference.” Florida ranked second in the nation for mortgage fraud activity during 2008, after ranking first during 2006 and 2007, according to recent data released by the Mortgage Asset Research Institute, or MARI. Read earlier coverage. The Attorney General is looking to develop a plan of action for triaging and referring mortgage fraud complaints and encouraged participation at the local levels as well, he said. Last year, complaints to the Attorney General’s Office about mortgage fraud topped every other complaint topic; much of those complaints now center around fraud in foreclosure rescue scams, as well, as the number of troubled borrowers has mushroomed in the past 12 months. A new law, effective October 1, 2008, provides some consumer protection against foreclosure rescue fraud; since the law took effect, the Attorney General’s Economic Crimes Division has filed five civil lawsuits against companies in violation of the law, has reached settlements with another five companies, and has 39 active investigations pending. Under the new law, foreclosure prevention firms are forbidden to charge up-front fees to consumers for loan workout services. Thursday, McCollum's office announced two injunction orders against alleged foreclosure scams in the state. The first involves Miami-based Mortgage Crisis Solutions Association, LLC and owner Donald Gillette, who are accused of charging homeowners in foreclosure up-front fees as high as $2,995 for loan modification services, but never providing the services. The second involves the Central Florida-based Winberg, Lopez, & Rodriguez Company -- which also did business under the names Winberg, Lopez, & Rodriguez Company, Wineberg, Lopez, & Rodriguez, and Wineberg, Lopez, & Rodriguez, P.A. -- for allegedly charging an up-front fee as high as $1,995 to homeowners who are seeking foreclosure-related rescue services. Write to Paul Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org.