The Federal Trade Commission has stepped up its investigations and prosecutions of mortgage relief scam artists. Since the start of 2013, the FTC has obtained settlements from over 20 individuals and companies involved with scamming distressed homeowners. In the most recent cases, two individuals and seven companies settled FTC charges that they victimized more than a thousand people through “mass joinder lawsuits” and “forensic loan audits.” They violated the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services (MARS) Rule, which was set up to curb deceptive and unfair practices related to such services.
The FTC contends that Sameer Lakhany, Brian Pacios, Precision Law Center, Inc., Precision Law Center LLC, National Legal Network, Inc., and Assurity Law Group, Inc. targeted consumers with a mass joinder scam. They promised homeowners that they could stop their foreclosures or obtain some other mortgage relief if they joined together to sue the lenders. The defendants represented themselves as a law firm called Precision Law Center, charging between $6,000 and $10,000 in up-front fees. But every suit was dismissed soon after it was filed; the victims saw none of the promised relief.
One of the scam artists, Lakhany, was also involved in a “forensic loan audit” scam, along with The Credit Shop, LLC, Titanium Realty, Inc., and Fidelity Legal Services LLC. These defendants called themselves nonprofit organizations, with domain names like “FreeFedLoanMod.org,” “HouseholdRelief.org,” and “MyHomeSupport.org;” but really they sold people an auditing service, which supposedly found lender violations in mortgage documents. The defendants charged $800 to nearly $1,600 for this service, which never led to a single favorable loan modification for the victims.
The FTC settlements require the defendants to surrender many assets and pay $4.75 million in restitution. All except Assurity Law Group, Inc. are banned from mortgage relief and debt relief services; Assurity is required to surrender $100,000 in funds and has been ordered to cease any deceptive practices. In February, the FTC settled with another predatory group, composed of Ryan Zimmerman, Consumer Advocates Group Experts, LLC, Paramount Asset Management Corporation, and Advocates for Consumer Affairs Expert, LLC. These entities also used the forensic loan audit scam, and charged people almost $2,000 or more for the audits-they failed to make good on their false claims. Besides receiving a $3.5 million judgment against them, the defendants are banned from marketing relief services or products, and from making any misleading claims about any other type of product or service.
In January 2013, eight other defendants settled with the FTC, for selling fake relief services to distressed Spanish-speaking homeowners over the phone. The defendants-David F. Preiner, Daniel Hungria, Freedom Companies Marketing, Inc., Freedom Companies Lending, Inc., Freedom Companies, Inc., Grupo Marketing Dominicana, Freedom Information Services, Inc., and Haiti Management, Inc-collected over $2 million from people over three years. They simply didn’t provide the services they said they could. Part of this settlement, in which the defendants received a $2.39 million judgment, bans them from marketing relief products or services, and from making misleading claims about anything they advertise.