The crackdown, called "Operation Loan Lies," was announced by Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz and California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. The scams were run nationwide, federal officials said, and originated in Southern California.
"These con artists see the high foreclosure rates as an opportunity to prey on people in distress," Leibowitz said in a prepared statement. "They promise to rescue homeowners in troubled financial waters, but after they take their money they throw them an anchor instead of a lifeline."
The FTC announced four new lawsuits for a total of 14 against mortgage foreclosure rescue and loan modification scams since April. In all, 23 state attorneys general and other agencies are participating in the operation.
In these types of scams, homeowners are typically charged a fee -- often equal to a month's mortgage payment -- with the promise of mortgage renegotiation. Rarely is there any follow-up or refund under supposed guarantees.
To help educate consumers about these types of scams, the FTC released the video "Real People, Real Stories."
Here is the FTC's description of some of the cases filed:
- The FTC and the states of California and Missouri charged that US Foreclosure Relief falsely claimed years of experience and a high success rate and promised quick results. Instead, homeowners paid the defendants thousands of dollars for services they never received.
- Lucas Law Center allegedly used an attorney to circumvent state prohibitions against receiving a fee before providing any services; the defendants charged up to $3,995 in advance. In addition to falsely representing that they would obtain mortgage loan modifications, the defendants told some homeowners to stop paying their mortgage in order to pay the defendants' fee.
- Loss Mitigation Services marketed primarily through direct mail solicitation. The defendants allegedly targeted consumers whose mortgage payments have increased, who have made late payments, and whose homes were in foreclosure. They charged up to $5,500 in advance and promised that a loan modification was assured or virtually assured if consumers hired them.
- The FTC alleged that Internet company Apply2Save charged consumers up-front fees of up to $995, claiming they could obtain a loan modification in 30 to 90 days. In fact, they did not obtain loan modifications for most consumers and were unable to stop foreclosures.