FTC mails $108 million in refund checks to Countrywide borrowers
The Federal Trade Commission will mail 450,177 refund checks totaling $108 million to homeowners allegedly overcharged on their mortgage by Countrywide Financial Corp. "It’s astonishing that a single company could be responsible for overcharging more than 450,000 homeowners," said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. "Countrywide’s unconscionable behavior harmed American consumers on a massive scale, and we are proud to be getting every single dollar back to hundreds of thousands of struggling consumers who can least afford to lose the money." The FTC struck a settlement with Countrywide in June 2010 after alleging the subprime mortgage giant collected excessive fees from delinquent homeowners. The refunds will go to borrowers whose loans were serviced by Countrywide between Jan. 1, 2005, through July 1, 2008, and were subject to the allegedly illegal practices. As part of the settlement Countrywide did not admit to any wrongdoing, just as its former CEO Angelo Mozilo did not have to when he settled with the Securities and Exchange Commission for $67.5 million for allegedly duping investors. Countrywide was purchased by Bank of America (BAC) in 2008, and BofA will be responsible for making the payments to borrowers. "These claims related to an investigation that began prior to Bank of America’s acquisition of Countrywide and covered former Countrywide entities and transactions only, no legacy Bank of America transactions," the bank said in a statement sent to HousingWire. "Bank of America agreed to this settlement to avoid the expense and distraction associated with litigating the case." According to the FTC, Countrywide allegedly used subsidiaries to hire vendors for property inspections, lawn mowing and other services while the borrower was in default. These subsidiaries allegedly marked up the prices charged by the vendors, sometimes by as much as double. Then, Countrywide would allegedly charge the homeowner for the marked-up fee. Also, the FTC alleged Countrywide made false or unsupported claims to borrowers about the amount the owed during Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceedings. These borrowers were allegedly charged fees and escrow amounts without being notified. The FTC directed those who receive checks to cash the check by Sept. 19. Each check will range from less than $500 to as much several thousand dollars. Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.