The Federal Trade Commission has proposed a new rule that would prohibit third parties, including loan modification specialists and loss mitigation attorneys, from collecting payment for foreclosure prevention services until after they obtain a documented offer from a lender or servicer for a modification or other form of mortgage relief.
“Homeowners facing foreclosure or struggling to make mortgage payments shouldn’t have to contend with fraudulent ‘companies’ that don’t provide what they promise,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said. “The proposed rule would outlaw up-front fees so companies can’t take the money and run.”
The FTC has brought 28 cases against companies suspected of foreclosure rescue and mortgage modification scams, and state and federal law enforcement partners have brought hundreds more. According to the agency, generally these cases charged that companies do not provide the services they promise and that they misrepresent their affiliation with the government and government housing assistance programs, including the Making Home Affordable program.
The FTC notes that historic levels of consumer debt, increased unemployment, and an unprecedented downturn in the housing market have contributed to high rates of loan delinquency and foreclosure, and the agency says this mortgage crisis has launched an entire industry of companies purporting, for a fee, to obtain loan modifications or other relief for consumers facing foreclosure.
“Far too many homeowners have paid up-front fees to bad actors who promised loan modifications but never delivered,” Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said. “I commend the FTC for proposing a strong set of safeguards to protect consumers from these predatory practices.”
The proposed rule also would bar providers from telling consumers to stop communicating with their lenders or mortgage servicers. It would also require them to disclose to consumers that they are for-profit businesses, the total amount consumers will have to pay, that neither the government nor the lender has approved their services, and that there is no guarantee that the lender will agree to change their loan.
The rule would apply to all for-profit companies that, in exchange for a fee, offer to work with lenders and servicers on behalf of consumers to modify the terms of mortgage loans or to take other steps to avoid foreclosure. Entities that own or service mortgage loans are exempt, and attorneys would have limited exemption if they represent the consumer in a bankruptcy or other legal proceeding.
The FTC is seeking public input, particularly from attorneys and other professionals, on the.