If you live in an area hit hard by the collapse of the housing market, you might have received a letter from a company promising that if you join other struggling homeowners in filing lawsuits against your lender, you can get mortgage relief, a cash reward and maybe even the title to your home. What it doesn’t mention is that you could end up being scammed out of thousands of dollars.
The Federal Trade Commission is in the process of going after companies that sucker people in with the promise of justice and cash, only to leave them high and dry. In its first case against an alleged scammer, the FTC has gotten a U.S. district court to halt operations and freeze the assets of a California man who operates three sites — HouseHoldRelief.org, FreeFedLoanMod.org, and MyHomeSupport.org — that the FTC says raked in more than $1 million from homeowners who had been promised relief through so-called “mass joinder” lawsuits.
Mass joinder suits are not the same as class-action suits, and they often require plaintiffs to pay legal fees up front.
In this case, the FTC alleges the man scammed consumers in two ways.
First, the agency claims the man sent out direct mail masqueraded as a specialty law firm, Precision Law Center, which promised that by joining other homeowners in a mass joinder suit against their lender, they could get the following:
“Forgiveness of all delinquent payments, fees and penalties,”
“Halt and reverse (sic) foreclosure proceedings,”
“Possible compensatory damages in the amount of $22,500.00,”
“Possible punitive damages in the amount of $52,500.”
According to the FTC, the company also claimed an 80-85% success rate for these kinds of lawsuits, and that in addition to the above results, homeowners could also receive the title to their homes free and clear; have their principal balance reduced to 70% of the current value and their interest rate reduced by half.
“In fact,” writes the FTC, “the defendants allegedly operated a sham law firm and only engaged attorneys briefly to file the lawsuits, after which either the defendants neglected the suits, or the suits were dismissed.”
People paid anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 to be part of these built-to-fail, dead-end lawsuits.
But wait, there’s more.
The company is also accused of operating a second scam, in which it sold “forensic loan audits” for between $795 to $1595 and allegedly promised but failed to deliver relief from unaffordable mortgages and foreclosures.
The FTC alleges that consumers were told these audits would find lender violations at least 90% of the time.
“The defendants falsely portrayed themselves as non-profit, free, accredited, or HUD-certified housing counselors with special qualifications to help obtain mortgage loan modifications and avoid foreclosure,” writes the FTC. “They promised consumers that the forensic loan audit would be the only charge not covered by their ‘free’ service, and that if the ‘audit’ did not turn up any violations, consumers could get a 70 percent refund and still obtain a loan modification.”
The FTC has posted this page to inform consumers about mass joinder lawsuit scams. It also include info on how to find legitimate legal assistance.