California Attorney General Demands All Loan Modification Firms Register with his Office and Post a 100K Bond

From the Orange County Attorney General’s Office:

Oakland — Continuing his fight against scam artists who “prey on” vulnerable Californians, Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today issued a directive forcing foreclosure consultants to register with his office and post a $100,000 bond by July 1, 2009. Those who fail to do so will be in violation of state law, subject to criminal penalties of up to a year in jail and fines ranging from $1,000 to $25,000 per violation.

“California is awash with con artists who prey on vulnerable families facing foreclosure,” Brown said. “By forcing foreclosure consultants to submit detailed information to my office and post a $100,000 bond, this registry will help bring long-overdue transparency to this shadowy world.”  Up and down the state, scam artists pose as legitimate foreclosure consultants, promising homeowners they will prevent foreclosure. In reality, these scam artists charge huge up-front costs, but don’t provide an ounce of help.

Earlier this month, Brown’s office prosecuted a scam artist who provided hundreds of homeowners with forged bank documents and directed them to send their mortgage payments to accounts she had created, instead of the homeowners’ lender. Additionally, Brown’s office has seen a significant increase in the number of complaints from homeowners regarding foreclosure consultants.

The registry unveiled today will provide Californians with information about potential consultants and recourse in the event that a consultant violates the law. All foreclosure consultants operating in California must post a $100,000 bond and register with Brown’s office by July 1, 2009 and submit the following information:

– Name, address, and telephone number;
– All names, addresses, telephone numbers, websites, and e-mail addresses used or proposed to be
used in connection with their business;
– Copies of all advertising;
– Copies of each different contract the consultant will use with consumers; and
– A copy of its $100,000 bond.

Foreclosure consultants who provide proper information will receive a Certificate of Registration. Brown’s office, however, may refuse to issue, or revoke, a Certificate of Registration if the foreclosure consultant has made any misstatement in its registration form, has been convicted of fraud or misrepresentation, has been convicted of a violation of the state’s foreclosure consultant laws, California’s false advertising, unfair or deceptive practices laws or other laws dealing with mortgages. If the company violates the law, a court may order restitution to victims out of proceeds from the $100,000 bond. After July 1, 2009, consumers can call the Attorney General’s office to determine whether the company they are considering dealing with has been issued a Certificate of Registration.

There is more in the press release including the names of several companies busted by his office.  California is asking all “foreclosure rescue” firms to register which includes the pre-foreclosure scam artists and also loan modification firms.  I wonder how long it will be before Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna makes a similar move towards foreclosure rescue companies? Unlicensed loan mod firms out of California continue to make a run for Washington State homeowners (based on the phone calls and emails I continue to receive about this company which sends paperwork to another loan mod firm under a different name for processing,) even though loan mod firms doing business in WA State must be licensed under DFI.

Do you think this registration system will help California homeowners?  Should we consider a similar system for Washington State?

JBA Financial Group: Get Licensed or Get Out of Washington State

I heard a radio ad on KIRO 973.FM on Monday, April 13, 2009 at 11:45 AM during the Dave Ross show and again on Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 6:02PM on the Ron and Don show.  The company was JBA Financial Group and they are advertising their loan modification services.  JBA Financial Group is not licensed to do business in Washington State, and they are not licensed as either a mortgage broker or consumer loan company according to the DFI database which is updated as of today.  I called JBA Financial. Here is how the conversation went:

Jillayne: “Hi, I’m a Washington State homeowner and I just heard your ad on KIRO 97.3FM here in Seattle.  I was wondering if you are licensed to do business in Washington State.”
JBA: “Well you sure sound happy. My name is X, what’s your name?”
Jillayne: “Jill.”
JBA: “Hi Jill, yes, we are licensed by the department of real estate and licensed by the department of corporations to do business in all 50 states.”
Jillayne: “Well on your website, it just says DRE-California. With all the news reports about predatory loan modifications, I want to be sure I’m dealing with a legitimate company.”
JBA: “That’s very smart of you.  As you can see on our website, we’re licensed to do business through the Department of Real Estate and that’s good for all 50 states.”
Jillayne: “No, I don’t think so. It just says “California” on your website, not “all 50 states.”
JBA: “Well you can call the department of real estate yourself and check us out.”
Jillayne: “No thank you, good bye.”

Newsflash for  JBA: The California Department of Real Estate does not give you approval to do loan modifications in all 50 states.

Isn’t there something in the contract KIRO radio signs with advertisers that they have to be sure the company is following state law?  I asked KIRO this question and here is what a KIRO representative, who refused to be identified, said on Monday: Listener concerns should be directed to the attorney general’s office. KIRO has left a message for JB Financial to inquire about the status of their ability to do business in Washington State.  On Tuesday, the same KIRO representative emailed me confirmation that JBA has the authority to do loan modifications in all 50 states, which they received from the owner of JBA.  Here is the document.  There is nothing in this document that allows JBA to claim that it can do loan modifications in all 50 states.  If I can easily figure this out, why can’t KIRO or it’s parent company, Bonneville?

I also put in a call to JB Financial Group’s owner, letting him know that I was preparing this blog post. I received a phone call from their vice president, who informed me that JBA’s primary business is real estate investments and they only recently began doing loan modifications.  He did not know if JBA is licensed to do loan mods in Washington State. He referred me to the company’s CFO, “the strictest compliance person you will ever meet.”  The CFO was not able to talk long because he was, no kidding, in the middle of recording another radio commercial, so the president called me back. He said that he believes the California Department of Real Estate gives them approval to perform loan modifications in all 50 states unless a state contacted them and told them otherwise. Wow, so much for strict compliance.   He believed that because his company is “attorney assisted” they didn’t need to be licensed. I informed him that WA State gives his company no such exemption.  

I’ll be happy to update this post once I find out that JBA Financial  Group is actually licensed in Washington State to perform the services that they are advertising on the radio. 

During the last decade we had hundreds and maybe thousands of predatory lenders roaming around Washington State.  In some of our state’s investigations, there were NO consumer complaints filed against lawbreakers such as the case of Liza Bautista. It will take a village to shut down the predatory loan mod companies.  I’m hoping that the legitimate loan mod companies as well as radio advertising decision-makers will help.  The closest we can come to “legit” is to make sure they are, at minimum, licensed with the Department of Financial Institutions working under either a mortgage broker OR licensed as a consumer loan company, or otherwise exempt from the act such as attorneys and free HUD-approved housing counseling agencies.