Archive for October, 2010

Attorney Harry Borders sent this article from the Federal Trade Commission

 

Forensic Mortgage Loan Audit Scams:

A New Twist on Foreclosure Rescue Fraud

Fraudulent foreclosure “rescue” professionals use half-truths and outright lies to sell services that promise relief to homeowners in distress. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, the latest foreclosure rescue scam to exploit financially strapped homeowners pitches forensic mortgage loan audits.

In exchange for an upfront fee of several hundred dollars, so-called forensic loan auditors, mortgage loan auditors, or foreclosure prevention auditors backed by forensic attorneys offer to review your mortgage loan documents to determine whether your lender complied with state and federal mortgage lending laws. The “auditors” say you can use the audit report to avoid foreclosure, accelerate the loan modification process, reduce your loan principal, or even cancel your loan.

Nothing could be further from the truth. According to the FTC and its law enforcement partners:

  • there is no evidence that forensic loan audits will help you get a loan modification or any other foreclosure relief, even if they’re conducted by a licensed, legitimate and trained auditor, mortgage professional or lawyer.
  • some federal laws allow you to sue your lender based on errors in your loan documents. But even if you sue and win, your lender is not required to modify your loan simply to make your payments more affordable.
  • if you cancel your loan, you will have to return the borrowed money, which may result in you losing your home.

If you are in default on your mortgage or facing foreclosure, you may be targeted by a foreclosure rescue scam. The FTC wants you to know how to recognize the telltale signs and report them. If you are faced with foreclosure, the FTC says legitimate options are available to help you save your home.

Spotting a Scam

If you’re looking for foreclosure prevention help, avoid any business that:

  • guarantees to stop the foreclosure process – no matter what your circumstances are
  • instructs you not to contact your lender, lawyer or credit or housing counselor
  • collects a fee before providing any services accepts payment only by cashier’s check or wire transfer
  • encourages you to lease your home so you can buy it back over time
  • recommends that you make your mortgage payments directly to it, rather than your lender
  • urges you to transfer your property deed or title to it
  • offers to buy your house for cash at a fixed price that is inappropriate for the housing market
  • pressures you to sign papers you haven’t had a chance to read thoroughly or that you don’t understand.
Finding Legitimate Help

Housing experts say that when you’re behind on your mortgage payments, maintaining communication with your lender is the most important thing you can do. Contact your lender or servicer immediately if you’re having trouble paying your mortgage or you have received a foreclosure notice. You may be able to negotiate a new repayment schedule. 

 

 

Company Stops Insuring Titles in Chase Foreclosures

 

 

 

A major title insurance company has stopped insuring homes foreclosed by JPMorgan Chase, another sign that the controversy over the legal practices of the big lenders is starting to influence the housing market.

 
The company, Old Republic National Title Insurance, told its agents Friday that it would not write policies on foreclosed Chase properties until “the objectionable issues have been resolved,” according to a memorandum sent out by the firm’s underwriting department.
 
A Chase spokesman declined to comment. Old Republic executives did not return calls for comment. The title insurer, which is based in Minneapolis, said earlier in the week that it would not write policies for properties that had been foreclosed by another big lender, GMAC Mortgage.
 
As GMAC and Chase try to deal with questions over their legal methods, they have halted all foreclosures in the 23 states where they need a court’s approval. Late Friday, Bank of America said it would stop all its pending foreclosures in those states as well.
 
GMAC and Bank of America have declined to say how many cases are involved. Chase said it was halting 56,000 cases. About two million households in the country are in foreclosure, and millions more are on the verge.
 
After a lender seizes a home in a foreclosure case and the defaulting homeowner is, if necessary, evicted, the company works with local real estate agents to prepare the house for sale. The National Association of Realtors said distressed sales, including foreclosures, were 34 percent of all existing home sales in August. In some stricken areas, the percentage is much higher.
 
When foreclosures are done with faulty documentation, that could leave the new owners of the house vulnerable to claims. Title insurance protects the buyer against defects, errors or omissions in the chain of title.
 
Old Republic said in the memorandum that its agents were already reporting written cancellations of contracts involving both Chase and GMAC.
 
Shares of the major title insurance companies dropped on Friday amid concern that their business would suffer as a result of the foreclosure freezes. Fidelity National Financial fell more than 4 percent, while First American Financial dropped 3 percent.
 
Fidelity National issued a statement saying it did not believe the problems with the foreclosure process would have “a material adverse impact.”
 
Mark P. Stopa, a lawyer in Florida who represents defaulting homeowners, said that if more title insurance firms began to shy away from insuring foreclosed properties, the entire housing market could suffer. The prices of foreclosures would plummet, because lenders will not issue a new mortgage without title insurance.
 
“Judges have to force banks to do foreclosures correctly,” Mr. Stopa said. But that would require a significant increase in staff, he said, and “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Gold Member Roger Taylor emailed me this article in the New York Times.

This is huge and will greatly affect the real estate market across America.

Chew on this a bit, not only will this slow down and halt foreclosures creating a massive stockpile of defaults, but there will also be many other critical issues for both homeowners and investors alike.

For Example:

Title Companies will stop writing title insurance. Old Republic has already announced it will not insure any properties having a GMAC mortgage.

Investors and Homeowners alike, who have already purchased "bank owned" real estate or HUD properties, may find themselves with a toxic property because it may have an unmarketable title due to all of the huge lenders and law firms having openly admitted falsifying documents during the foreclosure process.

Homeowners in default, by the masses, will be filing all kinds of action demanding lenders produce all of the original and real documents involving their mortgage. Keep in mind, a California bankruptcy court has already ruled that "MERS" is NOT sufficient proof of ownership of notes and mortgages. In other words, the lender who claims to own the note and mortgage, must be able to produce the original promissory note and documents. (Notes and mortgages were sliced, diced, and chopped up and sold on the secondary market using MERS without any concern for the physical documents themselves. 

Stay Tuned…

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Bank of America to Freeze Foreclosure Cases

By DAVID STREITFELD
Published: October 1, 2010 in NYT
 
Bank of America, the country’s largest mortgage lender by assets, said on Friday that it was reviewing documents in all foreclosure cases now in court to evaluate if there were errors.
 
It is the third major lender in the last two weeks to freeze foreclosures in the 23 states where the process is controlled by courts.
 
But Bank of America went further than the first two lenders, GMAC Mortgage and JPMorgan Chase, which have said they will amend paperwork only in cases they think were improperly done. So far, that has amounted to only a handful of cases.
 
Bank of America, in an e-mailed statement, said it would “amend all affidavits in foreclosure cases that have not yet gone to judgment.”
 
That could mean tens of thousands of foreclosure cases would be in limbo for months or, if the consumers in default hire lawyers, years.
 
Spokesmen for the bank said that they were uncertain how many cases the lender currently had in court. They provided no timeline or explanation for the freeze, saying only that the bank planned to eventually resubmit all the cases.
 
The moratorium is likely to further fuel the uproar over the foreclosure tactics of the big lenders, which continued to have political ramifications on Friday.
 
Before Bank of America’s announcement, Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut attorney general, asked judges in his state to put a halt to all foreclosures for 60 days. Connecticut is one of the 23 states where foreclosure is a judicial matter. Others include Illinois, Florida, New Jersey and New York.
 
Mr. Blumenthal, who is running for senator in Connecticut, said the freeze “should stop a foreclosure steamroller based on defective documents and enable effective remedies.”
 
California’s attorney general, Jerry Brown, said that Chase should stop any foreclosures in the state until it proved that it was following the law. Mr. Brown, who is a candidate for governor, earlier made the same demand of GMAC.
 
In California, lenders generally pursue foreclosures outside of the court system, so they are presumably still proceeding with evictions. Chase declined to say whether it would comply with Mr. Brown’s comments.
 
Chase said this week that it had frozen 56,000 foreclosure cases. GMAC, which is largely owned by the Treasury after receiving $17 billion in federal bailout money to prevent its collapse, has repeatedly declined to say how many cases it is halting.
 
The nation’s two other major lenders, Citi and Wells Fargo, have issued statements maintaining they have no problems with their cases.
 
The problem for all the lenders that have announced moratoriums stems directly from their attempt to deal with an unprecedented number of foreclosures.
 
According to LPS Applied Analytics, a mortgage data firm, 2 million households are in foreclosure. Another 2.37 million households are seriously delinquent and waiting for their lender to take action.
 
Sometimes these loans are still owned by the lender but often, the banks are merely the loan servicer acting on behalf of the owner. Many of the loans are owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage holding companies now controlled by the Treasury. In other cases the loans have been sold to private investment pools.
 
Confronted with so many cases, the lenders tried to process them on a wholesale basis, with the goal of avoiding the expense of a full trial and instead getting summary judgments.
 
The tool for doing this was the so-called robo-signers, in which midlevel bank executives would sign thousands of affidavits a month attesting that they had personal knowledge that the facts of the case were as presented. The affidavits were prepared by lawyers who were paid a flat fee, which also placed a premium on volume.
 
When defense lawyers started deposing these robo-signers, they acknowledged that they could not possibly have knowledge of all the cases. The banks say this is a technicality and they will refile the proper affidavits. The defense lawyers say the practice calls the cases, and indeed the entire process, into question.
 
Thomas Lawler, a housing economist, said the current mess was predictable and probably inevitable. Lenders made their money by making loans and then simply and efficiently servicing them by collecting the checks every month. They were never prepared to deal with the labor-intensive problems of delinquency and foreclosure.
 
“However, the foreclosure crisis is now almost three years old, and not having staffed up sufficiently to deal with the problems with inadequate staffing borders on criminal,” Mr. Lawler said. “I mean, jeepers, look at the unemployment rate; how hard would it have been to hire more folks?”
 
Mark Stopa, a Florida lawyer who represents defaulting homeowners, said the magnitude of the current troubles depends on how title insurance companies react. If those firms begin to shy away from insuring foreclosed properties because they think those properties are vulnerable to claims, he said, the entire housing market could suffer.
 
“Judges have to force banks to do foreclosures correctly,” Mr. Stopa said. But he noted that would require a significant increase in staff. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” he said.
 
Stocks of the major title insurance companies dropped on Friday amid concern that their business would suffer as a result of the foreclosure freezes. Fidelity National Financial fell more than 4 percent, while First American Financial dropped 3 percent.
 
One firm, Old Republic National Title, said this week it would not issue policies on GMAC foreclosures until further notice.

 

Gold Member Roger Taylor emailed me this article this morning. Thanks Roger!

 

Foreclosures Slow as Document Flaws Emerge

By DAVID STREITFELD
Published: September 30, 2010
 
 
The foreclosure machinery that has forced millions of Americans out of their homes is beginning to seize up as some lenders and their lawyers are accused of cutting corners in their pursuit of rapid home repossessions.
 
Matthew Staver/Bloomberg News
GMAC and JPMorgan Chase have acknowledged legal missteps, and have suspended new foreclosure actions in 23 states.
 
Evictions are expected to slow sharply, housing analysts said, as state and national law enforcement officials shine a light on questionable foreclosure methods revealed by two of the country’s biggest home lenders in the last two weeks.
 
Even lenders with no known problems are expected to approach defaulting homeowners more cautiously and look more aggressively for resolutions short of outright eviction.
 
Despite the turmoil, some economists said the breakdown could ultimately lay the groundwork for a real estate recovery.
 
Stricken neighborhoods across the country, for example, could benefit. One big factor undermining home sales is fear of a large number of foreclosed homes coming to the market. If the foreclosures are delayed or never happen, housing prices might find a floor.
 
“Maybe this is like shock therapy,” said the economist Karl E. Case. “Maybe this will actually get the lenders to the table and encourage them to work out deals that are to the benefit of everybody.”
 
While such a happy ending is possible, the near term is more likely to produce paralysis and confusion.
 
As more defaulting homeowners become aware of the lenders’ problems, they are expected to hire lawyers and challenge the proceedings against them. And if completed foreclosures were not properly done, families who bought the troubled homes could be vulnerable to claims by the former owners.
 
Apparently alarmed about such a possibility, one of the major title insurance companies, Old Republic National Title, has sent a bulletin to agents saying that “until further notice” it would not insure title to properties foreclosed upon by GMAC Mortgage, the country’s fourth-largest home lender and one of the two big lenders at the center of the current controversy.
 
GMAC declined to comment, and Old Republic representatives did not return calls.
 
GMAC has acknowledged legal missteps in processing mortgages, and JPMorgan Chase has acknowledged the possibility of missteps, and both have suspended all foreclosures in the 23 states where they need a court’s approval. That’s 56,000 in the case of Chase alone; GMAC declined to provide a number.
 
Attorneys general in half a dozen states are demanding action or opening investigations. The Treasury Department said Thursday it was asking regulators to look into “these troubling developments.”
 
“We’re seeing a fundamental breakdown in the system, because no one cared that much about getting things right,” said Representative Alan Grayson, a Democrat of Florida, who unsuccessfully asked the Florida Supreme Court to halt all foreclosures in that state.
 
Wall Street was examining the impact the disclosures could have on the lenders. Moody’s Investors Service has placed the servicer ratings of GMAC and Chase on review for possible downgrade.
 
The federal government has been the majority owner of GMAC since supplying $17 billion to prevent the lender’s failure during the financial crisis.
 
Other lenders said Thursday that their foreclosure filings, including the crucial affidavits, had been properly done.
 
A Citigroup spokesman said the lender required “annual training for our foreclosure employees on the proper execution of affidavits, including having personal knowledge of the information in the affidavit.”
 
A Wells Fargo spokeswoman said “the affidavits we sign are accurate.” A spokesman for Bank of America, Rick Simon, said, “We do not have anything to tell you at this time.”
 
GMAC and Chase are in trouble because, overwhelmed with foreclosures, they tried to process them as quickly and cheaply as possible, defense lawyers say. The companies say they are reviewing their procedures to take care of any violations.
 
The missteps stemmed from the affidavits the lenders file as they seek a quick or summary judgment in thousands of foreclosure cases. The affidavits state certain facts about the case, including the amount owed, which the signer indicates he has personal knowledge of. Without the affidavit, the lender would have to prove the facts at trial.
 
In depositions taken by lawyers for homeowners, executives at GMAC and Chase said they or their teams signed 10,000 or more affidavits and related documents a month. That did not give them time to review the cases.
 
Defense lawyers say the disclosures are symptomatic of the carelessness, if not outright fraud, that lenders have been exhibiting for years in their rush to file cases. Many necessary documents have disappeared, with defense lawyers saying the lenders often do not even have standing to foreclose.
 
In a number of pending cases in Florida, defense lawyers there said, GMAC has already withdrawn affidavits. The lawyers said they would try to have the cases thrown out for possible fraud, although they acknowledged that might be difficult.
 
GMAC said it would refile the affidavits. Chase said it had not withdrawn any affidavits.
 
“The way the plaintiffs’ lawyers have handled this has corrupted our legal system,” said Thomas Cox, a Maine lawyer whose deposition of a GMAC executive in June helped prompt the current disclosures. “They tried to manufacture foreclosures the way you’d manufacture cars, on an assembly line. It can’t be done that way.”
 
Mr. Cox is representing pro bono a rural woman who is in foreclosure on a $82,000 mortgage. The plaintiff in the case is Fannie Mae, the mortgage holding company that failed during the financial crisis and is now under government conservatorship. GMAC serviced the loan for Fannie Mae.
 
This week, the judge in the case set aside his summary judgment in favor of Fannie when he read Mr. Cox’s deposition of a GMAC executive, Jeffrey Stephan, who said he never reviewed the file he had signed. The case will now go to trial.
 
“I don’t think they are going to give up easily,” said Mr. Cox.
 
As the foreclosure crisis has deepened, the length of time borrowers spend waiting for the end has lengthened.
 
In January 2009 the time between the owner’s first missed payment and eviction was 319 days, according to LPS Applied Analytics. By August it was 478 days.
 
Since spring, the data firm says, the lenders have been trying to clear their backlog. They have stepped up the rate at which they put defaulting owners into the formal foreclosure process. In August, they started 283,000 foreclosures, up from 220,000 in April.
 
Now, as the lenders are pressed to examine more closely their filings, those foreclosure starts are likely to fall, prolonging the owner’s time in limbo. Many borrowers use this period, when they are living in their home but not paying for it, to try and get their financial house back in order.
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