The Obama Administration is launching a multi-pronged effort to crack down on scams and attempted fraud in the housing markets.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced the new efforts Monday in a press conference with Attorney General Eric Holder, Shaun Donovan, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz, and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Just as this administration has intensified our efforts to help homeowners, those who would prey on the most vulnerable are intensifying their tactics as well, Geithner said.
The federal agencies are specifically seeking to track down those who seek to use the existence of real federal housing relief efforts to advance their fraudulent efforts, Geithner said.
The Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, known as FinCEN, is launching an effort to help financial institutions flag potentially fraudulent mortgage modification schemes along with measures seeking to deter those who might consider starting such scams.
The advisory provides red flags for financial institutions to help better identify a loan modification or foreclosure scam, he said. FinCEN will also help law enforcement agencies streamline and coordinate their efforts so that the resources of multiple investigative and prosecutorial agencies are focused in the most efficient way.
He added, We will shut down fraudulent companies more quickly than before. We will target companies that otherwise would have gone unnoticed under the radar and we will aggressively pursue individuals involved in mortgage rescue scams.
Geithner also stressed that there are many legitimate sources to help struggling homeowners modify their mortgages and avoid foreclosure.
Be cautious of anyone or any organization that claims to guarantee success or seeks to charge up-front fees for services related to these programs, Geithner said. Those are red flags not to be ignored.
Holder added that the FBI is already investigating more than 2,100 mortgage fraud cases, and has doubled the number of agents it has pursuing such crimes.
For millions of Americans, the dream of home ownership has become a nightmare, he said. The unscrupulous actions of individuals and companies who exploit the misfortune of others is despicable, immoral, and illegal.
Furthermore the Department of Justice will also seek to root out discrimination in mortgage refinancing.
We are hearing increasing concerns that not all distressed borrowers are receiving the same opportunities for loan modifications. We are also hearing that the terms and fees for such modifications are not being made available on a non-discriminatory basis, he said.
Holder added, Let me be absolutely clear: Discrimination in lending on the basis of race, national origin or other prohibited factors is destructive, morally repugnant, and against the law. And we will use the full range of our enforcement authority to investigate and prosecute this type of unacceptable lending discrimination.
In a message directed to those whose illegal and repulsive scams have taken advantage of the mortgage crisis for illegal gain, Holder was blunt.
If you prey on vulnerable homeowners with fraudulent mortgage schemes, or discriminate against borrowers, we will find you and we will punish you.
Leibowitz also warned that the FTC has seen some scammers were copying the names and logos of legitimate companies.
We are cracking down the bottom feeders [of] the foreclosure crisis, he said. Second we're warning other companies that, unless they change their ways, we intend to go after them too.
He added, These companies are kicking people when they're down, charging enormous up-front fees and sabotaging efforts by homeowners that could be getting help for free.
For homeowners in distress there is almost nothing worse than turning to a company that offers mortgage relief instead of reaching out to their actual lender, Leibowitz said.
If you pay them, instead of your mortgage company you will find yourself on the fast track from distress to disaster, he said. If you're worried about losing your home to foreclosure here's what you should do: To begin, grab your monthly statement and call your mortgage company. The sooner you reach out to them, the more likely you'll be able to work out a payment plan.
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