States Getting Aggressive on Foreclosure Aid Scams
(Update 1: removed incorrect reference to Calif. Attorney General; AG Brown has prosecuted a number of foreclosure aid scams) In the wake of a much-covered federal announcement designed to bring attention to a growing number of foreclosure assistance scams, state Attorney Generals and other state-level regulators are pressing back against firms they say are designed to profit from consumer misery. In Indiana, state Attorney General Greg Zoeller has filed lawsuits against five foreclosure consultant companies that allegedly scammed consumers with similar false promises. "We recognize there is a foreclosure crisis in the country," Zoeller said in a statement. "Indiana has the tools in place that can help consumers avoid becoming victims of for-profit foreclosure consultants' bad intentions. Free mortgage counseling resources are available to Hoosiers that should be explored before paying a foreclosure consultant." The lawsuits filed in Indiana this week claim violations of three laws -- the Deceptive Consumer Sales Act, Credit Services Organizations Act and Mortgage Rescue Protection Fraud Act. The companies that were named as defendants are based in California, Arizona and Florida. Noteably, one of the lawsuits in Indiana was filed against Carlsbad, Calif.-based You Walk Away, LLC. The firm has received extensive press coverage for its efforts to "help" borrowers walk away from their mortgage and default when they owe more on their debt than their home is worth. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office earlier this week also filed a lawsuit and obtained a temporary restraining order against four defendants for their alleged involvement in such a scam. The complaint alleges that Loan Modification Group Corp. and Mitigation, LLC, as well as principals in the two companies, "sought to capitalize on the foreclosure crisis and prey upon Massachusetts residents facing the loss of their homes." The firms allegedly aggressively marketed their services to consumers via telephone and email solicitations, and represented themselves as law firms when they were not law firms -- with one company allegedly going so far as to claim they were "one of fourteen law firms recruited by the government" for loss mitigation initiatives. The firm regularly directed consumers to cease paying their mortgages, and collected up front fees of $2,000 or more, Coakley's office said in a press statement. Last month, Coakley's office obtained a temporary restraining order against Express Modifications, Inc., d/b/a “Loan Mods By Lawyers, Inc.,” which ran prominent advertisements in a local Massachusetts newspaper offering to help homeowners avoid foreclosure. In that case, the company not only solicited illegal advance fees, the AG's office said, but there was no evidence that the company actually had any attorneys assisting consumers with loan modifications. Many loan modification/foreclosure aid firms are based in California, given the housing problems now being seen in the state. The Calif. Department of Real Estate has been busy issuing "desist and refrain" orders to firms it says are scamming consumers. The latest such order came in early April, involving Fair Oaks, Calif.-based 2nd Chance Negotiations, Inc., ordering the company to stop performing loan modification services. “While the current market has created some wonderful opportunities for those looking to buy, it has also fostered an environment ripe for abuse.” DRE commissioner Jeff Davis said. “With so many folks struggling to stay in their homes, foreclosure rescue scams have risen dramatically. The department is aggressively pursuing individuals and companies trying to cash in on Californians in their time of need.” Write to Paul Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org.