As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Loansharks In Second Life

I don't think I'm being hyperbolic by saying that the average subprime mortgage broker should probably be in prison by now. They took loans that their customers had no possibility of paying back, often by forcing them into exotic arrangements where their payments would shoot up by double after a reset. They got bonuses for putting people into a higher interest rate than what the borrowers could qualify for. Now lots of those loans have gone sour, but the broker's company has already passed on that risk in the form of mortgage-backed securities. Indeed, these same lenders who preyed upon homeowners by getting them into residences they couldn't afford are now ripping them off again by setting up loan modification companies.

Yet the dangers assailing Mr. Soussana’s clients have yielded fresh business for him: Late last year, he and his team — ensconced in the same office where they used to broker mortgages — began working for a loan modification company. For fees reaching $3,495, with most of the money collected upfront, they promised to negotiate with lenders to lower payments on the now-delinquent mortgages they and their counterparts had sprinkled liberally across Southern California.

“We just changed the script and changed the product we were selling,” said Mr. Soussana, who ran the Los Angeles sales office of Federal Loan Modification Law Center. The new script: You got a raw deal, and “Now, we’re able to help you out because we understand your lender.” [...]

FedMod is but one example of how many of the same people who dispensed risky mortgages during the real estate bubble have reconstituted themselves into a new industry focused on selling loan modifications.

Despite making promises of relief to homeowners desperate to keep their homes, FedMod and other profit making loan modification firms often fail to deliver, according to a New York Times investigation based on interviews with scores of former employees and customers, more than 650 complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau, and documents filed by the Federal Trade Commission in a lawsuit against the company.

The suit, filed in California federal court, asserts that FedMod frequently exaggerated its rates of success, advised clients to stop making their mortgage payments, did little or nothing to modify loans and failed to promptly refund fees. The suit seeks an end to FedMod’s practices, and compensation for customers.

“Our job was to get the money in and then we’re done,” said Paul Pejman, a former sales agent who worked out of FedMod’s two-story headquarters in Irvine, Calif. He recounted his experience, he said, because “I really feel bad.”

Before state regulators and the Feds figured out this was going on, hundreds of loan modification companies took probably billions from distressed homeowners and provided virtually nothing in return. They saw opportunity in crisis - and they also CREATED much of the crisis by selling the homes to people who couldn't afford them in the first place.

Special place in hell reserved for them...

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