The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed suit in federal court to halt a mortgage relief scheme that allegedly deceived and preyed on distressed homeowners by charging them $2,000 to $4,000 based on bogus foreclosure rescue claims. The defendants allegedly falsely claimed they would provide legal help to save consumers’ homes from foreclosure and lower their mortgage payments, then charged them up-front fees in violation of federal law, delivering little or no help, and driving them deeper into debt.
The temporary restraining order signed by the court shuts down the defendants’ websites, freezes their assets, and provides for appointment of a receiver pending trial.
The defendants marketed their scheme in a variety of ways, which included using an official looking mailer that implores consumers to act quickly before they “FORFEIT LEGAL RIGHTS,” or face a “statute of limitations and government program deadlines,” according to the FTC. Three individuals – Ratan Baid, Madhulika Baid, and William D. Goodrich – and seven companies falsely promised lower monthly payments and interest rates, and conversion of adjustable-rate mortgages to fixed ones, the FTC complaint alleged. Many consumers who called the toll-free numbers were falsely guaranteed a loan modification that supposedly would make their payments more affordable, that they would get results within 60 to 90 days, or that Goodrich, an attorney, would use his impressive legal experience on their behalf, according to the complaint.
The defendants also marketed their scheme online, through telemarketing calls and with television and radio ads, according to the complaint. The defendants’ Web sites touted a range of financial services, including bankruptcy advice, credit counseling, and “forensic mortgage audits.” One of the sites described how these “audits” can help consumers hold onto their homes or lower their mortgage payments. It falsely claimed that the “audits” could uncover any “lending violations” committed by lenders, and that the information could be used “to gain leverage in a successful loan modification,” the complaint stated.
In reality, however, the defendants generally did not provide the promised loan modification or help consumers avoid foreclosure, either directly or through the “forensic mortgage audits.”
The complaint charges the defendants with violating the Federal Trade Commission Act and with violating the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule, which bans mortgage foreclosure rescue and loan modification services from collecting fees until homeowners have a written offer from their lender or servicer that they deem acceptable.
The complaint also names as defendants Apex Solutions Inc.; William D. Goodrich, Attorney Inc.; A to Z Marketing Inc.; Apex Members LLC; Backend Inc.; Expert Processing Center Inc.; and Smart Funding Corp.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint and seek temporary restraining orders against the defendants in this case was 4-0. The FTC filed the complaint and request for a temporary restraining order in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on June 18, 2013, and the court entered the temporary restraining order the following day.