At the request of the Federal Trade Commission, a U.S. district court has halted an operation that allegedly preyed on financially vulnerable homeowners, convincing them to pay $1,995 or more by holding out bogus promises that they could help them avoid foreclosure and renegotiate their mortgages.
The order issued by the court stops the allegedly illegal conduct, freezes the operation’s assets, and appoints a receiver to run the business while the FTC moves forward with the case.
According to the FTC complaint, the defendants behind the operation claimed on their website that “up to 95% of mortgages may be legally unenforceable due to defects like lost documents, improper notices, appraisal and/or predatory lending.” Using this claim, several defendants, including Consumer Advocates Group Experts, LLC, virtually guaranteed that they could get mortgage modifications with reduced interest rates and lower monthly mortgage payments for consumers.
The defendants offered to review consumers’ mortgage loan documents to determine whether their lenders complied with state and federal mortgage lending laws, and made allegedly false claims that the consumers could use the resulting “forensic audits” to avoid foreclosure and negotiate more favorable terms on their mortgages.
The complaint charges the defendants with violating the FTC Act and the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule, known as the MARS Rule, by deceptively telling consumers that they could renegotiate mortgages, making payments substantially more affordable; that they could use the “forensic audits” to negotiate with lenders; and that if they failed to do these things, they would provide a refund. The complaint also charges the defendants with other MARS Rule violations, including collecting fees for mortgage foreclosure rescue and loan modification services before homeowners accept a written offer from their lender or servicer, and failing to make required disclosures.
According to the FTC, the Los Angeles, California-based Consumer Advocates Group Experts, LLC, company owner Ryan Zimmerman, and several other companies he controlled charged from $1,995 to $2,590 for the “forensic audits,” assuring consumers in ads on their website www.consumer-advocates-group.com that, “After our examinations, lenders suddenly get religion and become much more cooperative in renegotiating.”
One of numerous supposed consumer testimonials on the site proclaimed: “They did a wonderful job and saved my home. I received a 3.25% 30 yr fixed ... Wells Fargo kept telling me that my loan mod was denied. CAG put together my package in 30 days and got me APPROVED in under 90 days!”
Consumers who wanted to learn more about the defendants’ services were invited to call the toll-free number listed on the defendants’ website, or provide contact information through the site and receive a sales call. According to the complaint, those who followed up were often told:
- to stop contacting the lender because it would hinder the negotiation process and, sometimes, to stop making monthly payments;
- that there was a 100 percent chance that the defendants’ “forensic audits” would uncover violations of federal and state mortgage and credit laws, and that consumers would receive either a loan modification from their lenders or a refund from the defendants; and
- that the defendants’ negotiations with the consumers’ lenders could lower their mortgage payments by 50 percent.
The complaint alleges that consumers often did not receive loan modifications or reduced payments and often found out from their lenders that the defendants either never contacted them, or did contact them but failed to follow up. The complaint also alleges that the defendants routinely failed to answer or return consumers’ telephone calls and emails seeking updates on their mortgage modifications, failed to provide refunds to consumers who requested them, and put consumers at risk of losing their homes and damaging their credit ratings. Consumers often learned too late that their houses were being foreclosed upon, according to the complaint.
In addition to Consumer Advocates Group Experts, LLC and Zimmerman, the complaint names Paramount Asset Management Corporation and Advocates for Consumer Affairs Expert, LLC, as defendants in this case.
The FTC has advice for consumers about mortgage modification and foreclosure rescue scams. For more information see the website Your Home and the publication Forensic Mortgage Loan Audit Scams: A New Twist on Foreclosure Rescue Fraud.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint was 4-0-1, with Commissioner Maureen K. Ohlhausen not participating. 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 May 30, 2012. The court granted the FTC’s request the same day. After a hearing, the court issued a preliminary injunction against the defendants on June 7, 2012.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has reason to believe that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.
(FTC File No. 1123137)
(Consumer Advocates Group NR)
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