TransUnion settles largest class action lawsuit in history
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TransUnion settles largest class action lawsuit in history

August 17, 2008

Are you ready for the new identify theft regulations?Jim JorgensenFair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act, identity theft, Mortgage Loan Fraud, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, CrossCheck Compliance
The federal financial services regulatory agencies have
developed new rules and guidelines to require financial sector
organizations, including the mortgage industry, to better protect
consumers from identity theft. The new rules, which are outlined in
the Fair and Accurate Credit Transaction Act (FACTA), were
effective on Jan. 1, 2008 with mandatory compliance by Saturday,
Nov. 1, 2008.
Basically, each financial services company and creditor that
holds any consumer account, in which there is risk of identity
theft, must develop and implement an identity theft prevention
program for combating identity theft in connection with new and
existing consumer accounts. It is important to note that there is
not an easy off-the-shelf solution to be implemented. The
regulators will be looking closely at how each organization
implements an identify theft program.
The first step in creating an identity theft program is to
conduct a risk assessment. The purpose of the risk assessment is to
determine the extent of the need of the identity theft program and
to specifically identify the accounts the program must address. The
next step in the program development is to document the relevant
patterns, practices and specific forms of activity that are the red
flags which signal possible occurrences of identity theft. Red
flags are risk events, which, with appropriate controls, will be
prevented from occurring and/or detected if occurred. The identity
theft regulations provide 26 red flag examples to be considered for
the organization's red flag library. These 26 red flags are
considered a starting point. The regulations require an in-depth
review of the organization to develop a red flag library that is
specific to the organization.
Following the red flag identification step, the next step is to
develop procedures to prevent and detect red flags, as well as
providing for an effective response to the red flags. Preventative
controls are the most ideal controls, but typically, are more
expensive to implement than detective controls. As with any control
implementation, the benefits of the control should exceed the cost
of the control. When determining the cost/benefit of controls, one
should not forget about intangible benefits, such as the avoidance
of harm to the companys reputation due to a breakdown in identity
theft controls.
Mortgage identity theft
Identity theft continues to be a significant problem in the
mortgage industry. The April 2008 report, Mortgage Loan Fraud,
published by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FCEN)
reported that suspected identity theft in conjunction with mortgage
fraud increased 97 percent from their previous study in 2006.
Mortgage identity theft involves an attempt to obtain credit
using another person's identity. In other words, it involves the
misuse of information with the intent to deceive or mislead the
lender into extending credit that the lender would not have likely
offered if the true identity had been known. The fraud perpetrators
abscond with the proceeds of the loan with little or no intention
to purchase or occupy the house. Victims of mortgage fraud identity
theft have had their properties encumbered with loans or property
titles fraudulently transferred, effectively having their homes
stolen.
In their April 2008 report, FCEN provides some real world
examples of mortgage identity theft:
•Individuals stole the identity of a property owner to
sell the property to another individual using a stolen identity. In
this scheme, the existing mortgage on the property was paid off
with a new mortgage. The perpetrators received the difference
between the sales price and the loan payoff. This fraud scheme is
more profitable when perpetrated against homeowners with a large
amount of equity in their home. The legitimate homeowners discover
the fraud when they are informed that their mortgage has been paid
in full.
•Homeowners' identities are stolen to apply for home equity
lines of credit or cash-out financing. In this scheme, the borrower
applies for multiple loans from multiple lenders on the same
property in a short period of time. This allows the identity thief
to take advantage of lag time in recording the mortgages.
Consequently, the lenders are unable to identify the existence of
the other loans. By the time the lender is aware of the other
mortgages, the loan payment has already been provided. First
payment defaults are the first sign of trouble.
Red flags
Before an identity theft program can be successfully prepared for a
mortgage operation, management must confidently recognize any red
flags that are relevant to their organization. There is no standard
list of red flags that will apply to every organization. The
organization's guidelines, products and procedures will make some
red flags more prevalent and others non-existent. Some common red
flags surrounding identity theft used to facilitate mortgage fraud
are:
•The consumer credit report contains one of the following:
Fraud alert, active duty alert, notice of credit freeze, address
discrepancy, significant number of recent inquiries, an unusual
number of recently opened accounts, or accounts that were closed
for cause or abuse;
•The identification documents and/or applications provided
appear to be altered or forged;
•Signatures on documents are not consistent throughout the
loan file;
•The Social Security number provided was never issued or
does not match the credit report;
•The phone number provided is not valid or is associated
with a pager or answering service;
•The proposed borrower is not able to provide documents, such
as asset or employment documents, that would verify information
provided on the application. Borrower requests that mail be sent to
"work" address; and
•Return mail is received on Real Estate Settlement
Procedures Act disclosures or first statement sent.
Controls At some point in the origination process, all mortgage
loan operations will handle customers' personal identification. The
handling of this information can make a difference to the
operation's bottom line, as well as the lives of their borrowers.
Solid internal controls designed around customized red flags will
help any organization avoid the substantial financial losses that
always follow mortgage identity fraud. These controls should
consist of security, prevention, detection and response measures.
Organizations should consider using automated information
technology (IT) tools, as well as checklists, suspicious party
lists and unbiased, third party reviews to assist in the execution
of their internal controls. Internal control measures should be
present during the origination, processing, underwriting, closing
and funding functions, with each specific identifying data
piecesuch as name, address and Social Security numberverified a
minimum of three times prior to the funding of the mortgage
loan.
Best-in-class lending organizations rely heavily on submitting
brokers to perform proper, independent due diligence on all loan
applicants, including a re-verification of loan documents. It can
be as simple as making sure that the borrower's signature matches
on all documents, all parties in the transaction present acceptable
photo identification and all documents are signed in front of a
licensed notary public.
Identity theft mortgage fraud can be detected in various phases
of the loan process: Pre-funding, post-closing audit, loan default
and through reports by victims, law enforcement and even the
borrowers themselves. Obviously, prevention of the fraud is ideal
through an effective internal control system. If the fraud occurs,
then detecting the fraud at the earliest possible point, ideally
before funding, is best.
Automated IT tools
There are many automated IT tools that mortgage companies can use
to detect potential identity theft used to facilitate mortgage
fraud. The increase in mortgage fraud over the last several years
has led many mortgage software vendors to enhance their product
offerings. This is especially true in the area of identity fraud.
These tools are offered by several established vendors and are
often Web-based, which provides convenient integration into the
origination process. Some of the more robust tools provide the
following:
•Social Security number validation;
•Name variances, including all aliases utilized;
•Office of Foreign Assets Control list checks;
•Drivers license number validation; and
•Assessment of the borrower information history to detect
unusual patterns that are highly correlated with mortgage
fraud.
Conclusion
Creating an effective and customized identify theft program, which
will pass the scrutiny of the government regulators, requires a lot
of time and effort by the organization's compliance team and
management. No doubt, in todays regulatory environment, with more
and more regulations being written and dealing with multiple
deadlines and exams, this can be overwhelming. The new identify
theft regulations can bring the feeling of just one more regulation
that has to be addressed. With the proper tone and commitment from
organizations' board of directors and executive management, an
effective identify theft program can be put in place that protects
your organization's customers from the horrible hardship of having
their identity stolen. This makes perfect business sense.
Jim Jorgensen is president and chief executive officer of
CrossCheck Compliance. He may be reached at (312) 346-4600 or
e-mail jjorgensen@crosscheckcompliance.com.

Originations