Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner hosted Attorney General Eric Holder, Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Jon Leibowitz, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) Director Jim Freis and attorneys general from 12 states to discuss emerging trends and proactive strategies to combat fraud against consumers in the housing markets as well as best practices to bolster coordination across state and federal agencies. This meeting follows up on an announcement by the Obama Administration in April of a multi-agency crackdown on foreclosure rescue scams and loan modification fraud designed to protect homeowners from predatory financial practices.
"A clear lesson of this financial crisis is that American consumers need better protection against fraud," said Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. "And while we will prosecute anyone who violated the law, going forward we will not wait for problems to peak before we respond. The Obama Administration is acting preemptively, across federal agencies and alongside state governments, to stop consumer fraud."
Treasury, FinCEN, and DOJ, HUD, and FTC have committed to taking proactive measures to curb abuse by coordinating information and resources across agencies to maximize targeting and efficiency in fraud investigations. This includes alerting financial institutions to emerging schemes, stepping up enforcement actions and educating consumers to help those in financial trouble avoid becoming the victims of a loan modification or foreclosure rescue scam.
"Our efforts to attack mortgage fraud must be, and are, concerted and coordinated," said Attorney General Holder. "Working together, we can send a clear and straightforward message: Those who prey on vulnerable American homeowners cannot hide from the hand of the law. If you perpetrate mortgage fraud, we will find you and we will bring you to justice."
"At HUD, we firmly believe that the first line of defense is an informed consumer, and that's why we're working with our state and local partners on the ground, particularly housing counselors, to increase consumer awareness and give homeowners and homebuyers a trusted place to turn for assistance," said Secretary Donovan. "HUD has also requested $37 million in our FY2010 budget to combat fraud by training industry partners and giving FHA access to state-of-the-art fraud detection tools, as well as to help curb discrimination through increases in HUD's fair housing activities."
The FTC has announced two new law enforcement actions in a continuing crackdown on mortgage foreclosure rescue and loan modification scams, bringing to 22 the number of these cases the Commission has filed since the housing crisis began. The FTC also announced developments in similar pending mortgage-related actions, several of which have involved coordinated case work from FinCEN.
"Today's challenging economy presents an opportunity for con artists who prey upon financially distressed consumers. The Federal Trade Commission and our state and federal partners will continue to bring law enforcement actions to stop this insidious fraud," FTC Chairman Leibowitz said. "If you're worried about keeping your home, avoid any company that asks for a large fee in advance, guarantees that they'll stop a foreclosure or modify a loan, or tells you to stop paying your mortgage company and to pay them instead."
Illegal and predatory practices in the mortgage market are rampant in the wake of the recent financial crisis, including many fraudulent television ads that run on prominent networks promising simple solutions to complex financial problems. Federal and state officials discussed patterns of fraud in today's meeting and best practices for addressing them early, before American families suffer further financial harm.
Participating in the meeting were attorneys general Dustin McDaniel, Arkansas; Terry Goddard, Arizona; Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut; Lisa Madigan, Illinois; Tom Miller, Iowa; Doug Gansler, Maryland; Chris Koster, Missouri; Catherine Cortez Masto, Nevada; Roy Cooper, North Carolina; Richard Cordray, Ohio (by phone); Patrick Lynch, Rhode Island; Rob McKenna, Washington (by phone). Collectively, these offices have taken action on scores of fraud cases in the housing markets and opened hundreds of investigations to date.