The defendants behind an alleged mortgage relief scam have agreed to settle FTC charges that they deceived cash-strapped consumers into believing they could hold onto their homes and reduce their mortgage payments by either suing their mortgage lenders in so-called “mass joinder” lawsuits or buying “forensic loan audits.”
All of the defendants, including two individuals and seven companies, will surrender assets and be prohibited from making deceptive claims about any product or service, and all but one are banned from marketing mortgage- and debt- relief services.
As part of its continuing crackdown on mortgage relief scams, the FTC filed a complaint in 2012 against Santa Ana, California-based Sameer Lakhany and five companies he controlled. The agency later added three more defendants. The defendants allegedly victimized more than a thousand consumers with two related scams.
In the first alleged scam, Lakhany and defendants Brian Pacios, Precision Law Center, Inc., Precision Law Center LLC, National Legal Network, Inc., and Assurity Law Group, Inc., allegedly held themselves out as a specialty law firm called Precision Law Center, making the false promise to consumers that if they sued their lenders along with other homeowners in so-called “mass joinder” lawsuits, they could obtain favorable mortgage concessions from their lenders or stop the foreclosure process. According to the complaint, they charged $6,000 to $10,000 in advance, but failed to follow through with the suits, all of which were dismissed shortly after filing.
The second alleged scam, involving Lakhany and defendants The Credit Shop, LLC, Fidelity Legal Services LLC, and Titanium Realty, Inc., typically charged consumers between $795 and $1,595 for a so-called “forensic loan audit.” The complaint alleged that these defendants falsely portrayed themselves as nonprofit organizations using the domain names “HouseholdRelief.org,” “MyHomeSupport.org,” and “FreeFedLoanMod.org.” They told consumers the loan audits would find lender violations 90 percent of the time or more, and that this would force lenders to give them better mortgage terms. In fact, the complaint alleged that consumers rarely if ever obtained better mortgage terms as a result of these “forensic loan audits.”
The proposed settlements impose judgments reflecting the total consumer injury attributable to the defendants:
- The order against Lakhany and the companies he controlled – The Credit Shop, LLC, Fidelity Legal Services LLC, Titanium Realty, Inc., Precision Law Center, Inc., and Precision Law Center LLC – imposes a $3 million redress judgment. The judgment is partially suspended as to Lakhany based on his inability to pay.
- The order against Pacios and his company, National Legal Network, Inc., imposes a $1.75 million redress judgment and requires Pacios and the company to turn over virtually all of their known assets, including a Ferrari and two rental properties in Las Vegas owned by Pacios.
- The order against Assurity Law Group Inc. requires it to turn over to the FTC all funds it received in connection with the “mass joinder” scam, which amount to $100,000.
The Commission’s ability to provide redress, and the amount provided, will depend on the amount actually collected from the defendants.
The Commission has advice for consumers faced with possible foreclosure on their homes. For more information see the FTC’s consumer information web pages titled: Facing Foreclosure?, Home Loans, and Mass Joinder Lawsuits.
The FTC filed its complaint againt Lakhany and the five companies he controlled on March 5, 2012 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. On March 22, 2012, it amended the complaint, adding Pacios, National Legal Network Inc., and Assurity Law Group Inc.
The Commission vote approving stipulations for permanent injunction orders to be entered against the defendants was 4-0-1, with Chairman Jon Leibowitz not participating. The proposed orders are subject to court approval. The FTC filed the three separate stipulated orders in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California with defendants: Sameer Lakhany, The Credit Shop, LLC, Fidelity Legal Services LLC, Titanium Realty, Inc., Precision Law Center, Inc., and Precision Law Center LLC; Brian Pacios and National Legal Network, Inc.; and Assurity Law Group, Inc. The orders were entered by the court on March 1, 2013.
NOTE: These stipulations for preliminary injunction orders are for settlement purposes only and do not constitute admissions by the defendants that the law has been violated. Permanent injunction orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.
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. 1123136)
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