In total, the operations took in more than $10 million by charging consumers for services that falsely promised to prevent foreclosures or renegotiate troubled mortgages.
“We are taking on schemes that prey on consumers who are struggling to pay their mortgages or facing foreclosure,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. "We are especially concerned with those who misrepresent government programs or websites to divert distressed homeowners from needed assistance."
At the request of the CFPB, federal judges in California have ordered a halt to both operations, the Los Angeles-based Gordon Law Firm and the Santa Ana-based National Legal Help Center, and frozen their assets while the CFPB moves forward with the cases. The case involving the National Legal Help Center were initially referred to the CFPB by the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program and Treasury’s Office of Financial Stability, which have coordinated closely with the Bureau throughout the investigation.
“It is absolutely unacceptable for unscrupulous con artists to take advantage of our nation’s housing crisis by targeting homeowners looking for help from TARP’s Home Affordable Modification Program,” said Christy Romero, special inspector general for TARP (SIGTARP). “We thank the CFPB for protecting homeowners. SIGTARP will continue to stop these scams and educate homeowners that mortgage modifications through HAMP are free.”
The CFPB complaints allege that the defendants in both cases violated the Dodd-Frank Act and Regulation O, formerly known as the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule. These laws prohibit unfair, deceptive or abusive acts or practices and protect distressed homeowners from mortgage relief scams.
In both cases, the CFPB alleges that the organizations illegally charged large upfront fees, deceptively claimed to be affiliated with government agencies and/or programs, misrepresented that they would secure loan modifications for borrowers and instructed borrowers to stop paying their mortgages and stop communicating with lenders.
The CFPB also alleges that, after pocketing thousands of dollars in illegal fees from one distressed homeowner after another, the defendants in both cases typically stopped returning consumers’ phone calls and emails. In the end, many consumers learned that the defendants had not contacted their lenders or obtained any meaningful relief for them.
Ultimately, homeowners across the country lost thousands of dollars each and suffered significant economic injury, including losing their homes, the CFPB said.