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FTC cracks down on mortgage loan "forensic audits"

 
FTC Broadens Case Against Mortgage Relief Scheme; Charges That 'Forensic
 Audits' Were Unlikely to Help Homeowners
 
The Federal Trade Commission has named several new defendants and added new
charges concerning so-called “forensic audits” to its lawsuit against an operation that
allegedly bilked homeowners who were trying to lower their mortgage payments. The
action is part of an ongoing crackdown on scams that target consumers who are
behind in their mortgage payments or at risk of foreclosure.
 
The FTC has added as defendants Bradford R. Geisen; Maurice Jackson; Patrick
Butler; Credit Services Alliance Inc.; and CreditLawGroup, a law firm run by two of the
original defendants, John W. Smith and Glenn E. Gromann. The original defendants
also included The Debt Advocacy Center LLC; Smith, Gromann & Davidson P.A.; and
Kevin McCormick.
 
According to the FTC’s amended complaint, the new defendants, along with Smith
and Gromann, offered “forensic audits” – checking a homeowner’s loan documents for
law violations that would give them leverage in negotiating with lenders to obtain a loan
modification or a “short sale” (sale of a house for an amount less than the mortgage
balance). Their ads stated, “We have found that between 80-90% of all loans that we
have audited have some form of rights violations.” They collected $995 in advance for
each audit even though an audit was unlikely to assist in negotiations with lenders,
the complaint alleges.
 
The FTC charged the new defendants, and Smith and Gromann, with falsely claiming
that as a result of forensic loan audits consumers would obtain completed short sales
or loan modifications that would make their mortgage payments substantially more
affordable. They are also charged with telemarketing without paying the required
annual fee to access telephone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry.
 
The FTC’s original complaint, filed in November 2009, alleged that The Debt Advocacy
Center, operated by several individuals, charged customers $1,500 based on the
alleged false promise that it would get homeowners’ loans modified to make their
mortgage payments more affordable. The FTC alleged that defendants falsely claimed
that they had helped more than 90 percent of their clients, and that they would refund
consumers’ money or pay a penalty if they failed. They are also charged with debiting
consumers’ bank accounts or charging their credit cards without their consent. The
court halted the operations and froze the defendants’ assets, pending resolution of the
case. (See November 24, 2009 press release
 
The FTC created Forensic Mortgage Loan Audit Scams: A New Twist on Foreclosure
Rescue Fraud, to inform consumers about legitimate resources to help save their
homes.
 
The Commission vote to file the amended complaint was 5-0. The complaint was filed
in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division.
 
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law
has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is
in the public interest. A complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendants have
actually violated the law.
 
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive,
and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid
them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint
Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into
Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,800 civil and
criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s Web site
provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.
 
 
 
 

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