Operation Stolen Hope is led by the Federal Trade Commission. The goal of the initiative is to bring legal action to mortgage brokers and lenders who intentionally mislead existing homeowners who are seeking help with mortgages they cannot afford.
The Mortgage Mess
Operation Stolen Hope comes as a welcome initiative by many people who feel as though the federal government has looked the other way when it comes to mortgage companies and mortgage professionals cheating people out of money with deceptive lending practices and outright lies. While unscrupulous professionals and companies are the minority within the larger realm of the mortgage business, nonetheless there were many instances where consumers were misled or tricked into accepting a mortgage they didn't fully understand or handing over thousands of dollars for a mortgage modification that was never pursued by the company accepting the money.
With this initiative, participating states pursue legal action against mortgage professionals or companies that have used deceptive practices to cheat consumers out of their money, particularly for mortgage relief programs.
Mortgage professionals and mortgage companies acting in deceptive ways will experience potentially serious consequences due to this initiative. Potential consequences include:
- Legal action, such as a lawsuit
- Monetary penalties and fees
- Suspension or termination of professional licenses
- The closing of the mortgage business
These consequences are designed to halt deceptive mortgage practices and remove criminals from the mortgage business. It is not designed to pursue mortgage lenders who have presented everything correctly and legally, yet the borrowers failed to read the documentation and wound up with a mortgage loan they did not understand. This is not an instance of deceptive mortgage lending because the lender did not try to trick the borrowers; it was the borrowers who failed to thoroughly read the documents and did not ask questions for clarification.
The FTC and Operation Stolen Hope
State agencies work with the Federal Trade Commission when pursuing mortgage relief scams. Specifically, these agencies pursue companies involved in deceptive mortgage practices including:
- Mortgage Modification Scams: These companies or individuals promise mortgage modifications in return for large fees. The modifications are never completed -and sometimes never initiated- yet the homeowners never see their money again.
- Foreclosure Relief Scams: These companies or individuals guarantee struggling homeowners the ability to stop foreclosure proceedings, but either ask for large fees and give nothing in return, or worse yet, ask the homeowners to sign over ownership of the house under the premise that the foreclosure will be stopped. Instead of stopping the foreclosure, however, the homeowners lose their home and still wind up financially obligated to the mortgage debt.
These are not companies that genuinely want to help people but wind up being unable to provide assistance; these are companies that set out with the full intention of scamming homeowners who are in vulnerable financial situations.
Operation Stolen Hope is not only designed to punish individuals and companies that preyed on struggling homeowners in the past, but may also deter these issues in the future. If the government makes a deliberate and obvious effort to bring legal action against entities specifically targeting homeowners in financial trouble, this may potentially lessen the chances of unscrupulous individuals and companies attempting to commit these crimes.
Homeowners must also take responsibility to make sure that they do not fall prey to these scams. The first contact when financial troubles arise should be the mortgage lender instead of a third party intermediary because oftentimes mortgage lenders are willing to work with struggling homeowners to help them keep their homes.