Beware of Fake Debt Collectors – FDCPA May Not Protect You


Over the last several decades, America has truly transitioned into a debtor society. Despite tough economic times, consumers are more likely to borrow than they are to delay when making a purchase. With consumers having financial obligations to multiple institutions, keeping accurate records and documentation can become a challenge. Opportunistic con artists posing as “fake” debt collectors recognize this as an area of vulnerability and are more than willing to use it to their advantage.

These fake debt collectors speak English with a foreign accent and call themselves “Affidavit Consolidation Services,” Criminal Bureau of Identity,” “U.S. National Bank,” “US Justice Department/Payday Loan Division,” “Federal Investigation Bureau,” “United Legal Processing” and other phony names. They refuse to disclose real names and addresses and are believed to be operating from homes, automobiles, and foreign countries such as India. As these scammers have kept themselves well hidden, law enforcement authorities have been unsuccessful in locating or shutting them down.

Fake debt collectors typically pose as lawyers, law enforcement officers, investigators, and bankers while attempting to collect on phony debt. They threaten consumers with immediate arrest for “bank fraud” or other crimes unless funds are wired immediately. They scare and confuse consumers by using meaningless legal phrases such as “We are downloading warrants against you” or “We are filing an affidavit against you.” Consumers that do not immediately fall for the scam are warned, “Only God can help you now.”

Fake debt collectors almost always call consumers at work – sometimes several times a day – advising their supervisors, “Your employee has committed bank fraud and is about to be arrested.” Such threats have been unsettling to consumers and employers. Because the scammers make a special point of calling at work, employers should realize that their employee is an innocent victim of a criminal enterprise and cannot stop the calls voluntarily.

“My office works to protect consumers from fraudulent activities by seeking to stop deceptive practices and resolving consumer complaints,” stated Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum. “However, a consumer’s best defense is to be aware of the scam so all demands for money can be resisted and personal identification information is not misused.”

In general:

A debt collector may contact you in person, by mail, e-mail, telephone, telegram or fax. A collector may not contact you with such frequency that can be considered harassing. A debt collector may not contact you at work if they know your employer disapproves nor may they contact you at unreasonable times or places, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.

A debt collector is required to send written notice within five days of first contact advising the amount due. The notice must also specify the name of the creditor and what action to take if you wish to dispute the debt.

You may stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter ceasing them from communication. Once the agency receives it, they may not make further contact except to advise there will be no further contact or to notify you of a specific action contemplated by the creditor.

A debt collector may not harass or abuse a consumer. A collector may not use threats of violence against a person, property or reputation; use obscene or profane language; advertise the debt; or repeatedly make calls with the intent to harass or abuse the person at the called number.

A debt collector may not use false statements, such as implying they are attorneys; that you have committed a crime; that they operate or work for a credit reporting agency; misrepresent the amount of a debt; or indicate that papers mailed are legal forms when they are not.

A debt collector may not threaten arrest or that they will seize property or garnish wages unless the collection agency or creditor intends to do so; or that a lawsuit will be filed when they have no legal right to file or do not intend to file such a suit.

If you are being harassed by a debt collector – real or fake – file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office by calling (866) 9-NO-SCAM (866-966-7226) or by visiting their website at www.myfloridalegal.com. The Federal Trade Commission also offers a consumer collection guide detailing your rights at www.ftc.gov.

Source:  The Credit Report with Bill Lewis – Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune.  http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/jun/27/lc-beware-of-fake-debt-collectors/

William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates is a solutions based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity. To learn more, tune into “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis,” a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues on AM 1470 WWNN.

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Are you ready for the Credit Card Act of 2009?


With the enactment of The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, commonly referred to as The Credit Card Act of 2009, several changes have occurred that will dramatically impact how Americans utilize their credit cards, debit cards, and gift cards. Are you aware of your rights and protections under the new law?

Your credit, debit, and gift cards have become more consumer-friendly. The Credit Card Act of 2009 authorized the Federal Reserve to establish new rules regulating the credit card industry. Several provisions took effect on Feb. 22, including 45 days required notice for interest rate hikes, restrictions on obtaining a credit card for those under age 21, and the elimination of double cycle billing.

Effective 12:01 a.m. today, the final batch of regulations became effective. For the most part, these new rules protect consumers from unreasonable penalty fees and excessive interest rates. These rules are particularly important if you are struggling with high credit card debt.

Interest rates

For those consumers who carry a balance on their credit cards from month to month, having low interest cards can save a lot of money. Unfortunately, many companies have gone in the opposite direction, substantially raising rates for millions of consumers on their credit cards. The new rules will help in several aspects.

• If a company increases the annual percentage rate on your credit card, they must explain why. While this rule will not prevent a rate increase, a reason must be provided for said increase (such as a lower credit score), and consumers will have an opportunity to address the issue.

• If a company increases your credit card interest rate, they must re-evaluate that increase every six months. If the reason for said increase has been resolved, they must reduce your interest rate to the former level within 45 days of completing a reevaluation. This rule is particularly important to consumers who have seen their interest rates skyrocket due to lower credit scores.

Penalty fees

Credit card companies have become known for excessive fees and charges. From late payment fees to over-the-limit charges, credit card fees have become a consumer nuisance. While the new regulations will not eliminate these fees, they should reduce them.

Credit card companies can no longer charge a penalty fee in excess of $25 in most instances. There are some limited exceptions to this rule. For example, if the company can substantiate costs in excess of $25 as a result of said late payment, the penalty may exceed $25. Moreover, if you were delinquent in the last six months and pay late again, the penalty may be increased to $35.

• Consumers cannot be charged a late payment penalty in excess of your minimum payment. This avoids the practice of companies adding a $39 late payment penalty because you were a few days late on a $10 minimum payment.

• Credit card companies can no longer charge a fee for dormant accounts. Called an inactivity fee, some companies assess a fee if you did not use the card enough. The new rules eliminate this practice.

• Credit card issuers cannot charge more than one penalty fee for each transaction or event that gives rise to said fee. For example, if you were late with a payment and the penalty fee caused your account to exceed its credit limit, companies cannot assess an over-the-limit charge in addition to the late penalty fee. The new regulations put an end to this double-penalty practice.

Only time will tell how well these regulations work at protecting consumers. In some cases, new regulations cause companies to find alternate ways to raise revenue, such as increasing annual fees or reducing other benefits. For now, though, consumers may get some relief from excessive credit card fees and rising interest rates.

To learn more about The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 and your rights and protections under the new law, visit http://www.tinyurl.com/thecreditreport.

William E. Lewis Jr., is a credit repair expert and host of “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis” on AM 1470 WWNN, a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.

Guide to Credit Reports, Credit Scores


Attention is focused on new financial regulations enacted as part of the Dodd-Frank Act.

Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission announced final rules requiring creditors to provide consumers’ with a “risk-based pricing notice” when granting credit on less favorable terms than it provides other consumers.

To assist consumer understanding of these new rules, the U.S. Federal Reserve has unveiled an online guide to credit reports.

This straight-forward guide includes information on credit reports and credit scores, how they are utilized in credit granting decisions, unsolicited credit offers, credit repair and how to protect your personal information from fraud.

Released on Wednesday, the “Consumer’s Guide to Credit Reports and Credit Scores” is meant to complement consumer-protection laws that Congress enacted several years ago.

Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, lenders – starting in January – will be required to tell consumers when adverse information on their credit reports is going to result in higher rates and fees for mortgages, credit cards and other loans.

In today’s tough economy, a strong FICO (Fair Isaac) credit score is more important than ever. Studies show that approximately 78 percent of credit profiles in the United States contain some sort of error or omission materially impacting credit worthiness.

As creditors tend to offer favorable terms to consumers with good credit histories and more costly credit to those with poor credit histories, the guide is intended to assist them in disputing negative and/or inaccurate information prior to making an application for credit or employment.

Under the “risk-based pricing” rules, consumers hit with the less favorable credit terms can also obtain a free credit report to check its accuracy.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, as modified by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, consumers are entitled to a free copy of their credit report under a narrow set of circumstances.

If you have been denied credit, goods, benefits, services, insurance, and/or employment, the credit reporting agencies of Equifax, Experian and Trans Union are statutorily mandated to provide a copy free of charge.

Absent these exceptions, consumers are entitled to one free “annual credit report” per year. Credit scores are not included with any of the “free credit reports” provided by the national credit reporting agencies.

Equifax can be contacted at (800) 685-1111 or www.Equifax.com; Experian can be contacted at (888) 397-3742 or www.Experian.com; and Trans Union can be contacted at (800) 916-8800 or www.TransUnion.com.

Be sure to prompt that you were denied credit when requested to do so.

For your free annual credit report, contact the central source at 877-FACT-ACT (877-322-8228) or www.AnnualCreditReport.com. Follow the voice prompts and obtain your credit report for review.

Consumer advocates say additional work is needed to address concerns about credit reports and credit scores. “The main problem is really with credit reports – they’re just plagued with inaccuracies,” said National Consumer Law Center attorney Lauren Saunders. “It’s a nightmare for consumers to get anything fixed.”

Saunders said she is expecting the FTC and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the first agency to be charged with protecting consumers from abusive financial products, to take more action in addressing consumer concerns about credit reports.

Acting as a primer to the uneducated individual, the “Consumer’s Guide to Credit Reports and Credit Scores” advises what they should do if they find errors. In a three-step process, ordering credit reports and reviewing them for errors or inaccuracies; contacting the credit reporting agencies to enter a formal dispute; and, waiting for a response from the CRA’s and/or creditors is explained.

To learn more about the Consumer’s Guide to Credit Reports and Credit Scores, visit www.federalreserve.gov/creditreports. To review Bill Lewis’ entire consumer protection series at the Highlands Today, visit www.williamlewis.us.

Source:  The Credit Report with Bill Lewis – Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune – Media General Group.  http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/nov/14/guide-credit-reports-credit-scores/

William E. Lewis Jr., is a credit repair expert with Credit Restoration Consultants and host of “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis” on AM 1470 WWNN, a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.

U.S. Supreme Court Rules Against Debt Collector


Debt collectors can no longer claim ignorance of the law as an excuse for violating the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) while attempting to collect a debt.

On Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court handed down a ruling that severely restricts the “bona fide error” defense under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act for debt collectors that send erroneous collection notices.

In a 7-2 ruling, the high court ruled that collection law firms could not use misinterpretations of the law in a “bona fide error” defense under the FDCPA.

In the matter of Jerman v. Carlisle, McNellie, Rini, Kramer & Ulrich, Karen Jerman sued an Ohio law firm for violating the FDCPA when it attempted to foreclose on her home following payment on the mortgage. In its initial collection notice, the law firm sought written proof that Jerman paid her Countrywide Home Loans mortgage. Absent proof of payment or a written dispute within 30 days, the debt would be presumed valid. Jerman hired an attorney to meet the written requirement, although the FDCPA does not explicitly require consumers to submit disputes in writing.

Specializing in real estate and foreclosure law, Carlisle admitted that its initial validation notice intended dispute claims to be submitted in writing. After Jerman sued, the firm argued that it should not be held liable under the FDCPA because the violation was an unintentional or “bona fide error.” Carlisle defended the matter asserting a “safe harbor protection” stating they were unaware that “written” disputes were not required under the FDCPA.

Although consumers are often instructed by debt collectors to submit written disputes, no such language exists under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. In this instance, Carlisle argued that said “bona fide error” was the result of a clerical mistake.

The lower court sided with Jerman, noting that while Carlisle had violated the FDCPA, it was not liable under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act for damages as the violation was unintentional or a “bona fide error.” An appeals court decision affirmed that ruling, sending the case to the United States Supreme Court.

In an opinion written for the 7-2 majority by Justice Sonya Sotomayor, the high court stated that “ignorance of the law will not excuse any person, either civilly or criminally.” Carlisle had argued that misinterpretations of the law were written into the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Sotomayor and the majority disagreed, noting that ignorance of the law was not explicitly written into the FDCPA.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, in a dissent joined by Justice Samuel Alito Jr., said the high court’s decision “aligns the judicial system with those who would use litigation to enrich themselves at the expense of attorneys who strictly follow and adhere to professional and ethical standards.”But Sotomayor spoke directly to that objection in the majority opinion, writing, “We do not foresee that our decision today will place unmanageable burdens on lawyers practicing in the debt collection industry.”

“Debt collectors should be treated like anyone else when violating a federal statute,” said Scott Kleiman, a foreclosure defense attorney with Kalis & Kleiman. “The Supreme Court decision keeps intact an important reason for debt collectors to abide by the law. While strong financial incentives encourage the collection of delinquent debts, continued unlawful behavior will not be excused and punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

The case originated when Carlisle – acting as a debt collector – sent a notice and foreclosure complaint to Jerman, requiring her to submit any dispute “in writing” within 30 days. The “in writing” language was included in the notice based upon legal authority from other jurisdictions. 

Although Countrywide Home Loans subsequently dismissed the foreclosure action, Jerman turned to the Icove Legal Group, a Cleveland-based public interest law firm that filed a class-action suit on behalf of her and other homeowners who received the erroneous notice. “This case will have a far-reaching impact within the debt collection industry as consumer laws in a number of states have ‘bona fide error’ statutes identical to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act,” stated attorney Ed Icove, in applauding the 7-2 majority decision.

The entire United States Supreme Court opinion can be read at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-1200…

Source:  The Credit Report with Bill Lewis – Highlands Today, an edition of the Tampa Tribune. http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/apr/25/us-supreme-court-rules-against-debt-collector/columns-welewisjr/

William E. Lewis Jr., is a credit repair expert with Credit Restoration Consultants and host of “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis” on AM 1470 WWNN, a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.

Stop Annoying or Harassing Phone Calls


Are you receiving annoying or harassing phone calls from telemarketers or debt collectors? In these tough economic times, your telephone seems to ring more often. There are actions you can take to reduce the number of calls you receive. First, you must determine whether the caller is a telemarketer attempting to solicit a product or charity, or a debt collector attempting to collect a past due bill.

To stop most telemarketers from calling your home or cell phone, you must sign up through the Do Not Call Registry offered by the Federal Trade Commission. Registration can be made online at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 888-382-1222 from the number in which you seek to block.

The national Do Not Call Registry gives you an opportunity to restrict most telemarketing calls received on your home or cell number. Once you register, telemarketers covered by registry rules have up to 31 days to remove your phone number from their calling lists. Should the telemarketing calls continue, you have a right to file a complaint with the FTC.

The Federal Trade Commission says that “because of limitations in the jurisdiction of the FTC and FCC, calls from or on behalf of political organizations, charities, and telephone surveyors would still be permitted, as would calls from companies with which you have an existing business relationship, or those to whom you’ve provided express agreement in writing to receive their calls. However, if you ask a company with which you have an existing business relationship to place your number on its own do-not-call list, it must honor your request. You should keep a record of the date you make the request.”

Distinguished from the telemarketer, is the debt collector. If you owe a past-due bill, debt collectors have the right to call you – but not harass you. The Federal Trade Commission enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a federal law that prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from you.

There are many types of debts covered by the FDCPA. Personal, family, household debts, auto loans, medical bills, and even your mortgage are all protected under the law. The FDCPA, however, does not cover debts incurred to run or operate a business.

Some of the most common questions about debt collectors and consumer rights can be answered by visiting the Federal Trade Commission’s Web site at www.ftc.gov. Although the FTC will not normally intercede on behalf of an individual consumer, they act as a clearing house for complaints and have been known to initiate legal action against the most abusive collectors in the industry.

Should a Florida resident have a complaint about abusive debt collection tactics, they can file a complaint through the Florida Office of Financial Regulation (OFR), the state agency in charge of debt collectors, at www.flofr.com. In this instance, the OFR will open a file and forward the complaint to the offending agency.

If a debt collector violates the FDCPA, you can take legal action.

“You have the right to sue a collector in a state or federal court within one year from the date the law was violated,” the FTC said. “If you win, the judge can require the collector to pay you for any damages you can prove you suffered because of the illegal collection practices, like lost wages and medical bills. The judge can require the debt collector to pay you up to $1,000, even if you can’t prove that you suffered actual damages. You also can be reimbursed for your attorney’s fees and court costs. A group of people also may sue a debt collector as part of a class action lawsuit and recover money for damages up to $500,000, or one percent of the collector’s net worth, whichever amount is lower. Even if a debt collector violates the FDCPA in trying to collect a debt, the debt does not go away if you owe it.”

Whether you receive an annoying or harassing call from a telemarketer soliciting a product or charity, or a debt collector attempting to collect a debt, you can stop your phone from ringing by simply learning your rights.

William E. Lewis Jr., is a credit repair expert with Credit Restoration Consultants and host of “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis” on AM 1470 WWNN, a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.

http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/mar/21/lc-stop-annoying-or-harassing-phone-calls/columns-welewisjr/

Identity Theft Protection is a Waste of Money


Are you one of the 13 million people who purchased “identity theft protection” in 2009?  If so, you wasted your money.  Identity theft protection companies push statistics like “almost 11 million adults were victims of identity theft in 2009” while prodding you to purchase a service that could cost up to $179.00 per year.  What they fail to advise is that identity theft protection does not cover account take-overs, the misuse of debits cards, or the establishment of personal identification (such as a driver license) in your name.

I am happy to report that almost all of the services provided by identity theft protection companies are available at little or no cost.  There is no reason to pay a monthly or yearly fee for something you can do yourself.

REVIEW YOUR CREDIT REPORT

By keeping close tabs on your credit report, you can identify signs of fraud early.  If you find an account not opened by you and have positively identified it as fraudulent, enter a dispute with the credit reporting agencies of Equifax, Experian and Trans Union.  You can obtain a free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com or (877) 322-8228.  When you pay for identity theft protection, this free credit report is one of the “benefits” they tout.

PLACE A 90-DAY INITIAL FRAUD ALERT ON YOUR CREDIT REPORT

Call the credit reporting agencies and request a 90-day initial fraud alert on your credit report.  Not only will this trigger a free credit report but will advise potential creditors to investigate any application prior to issuing credit, goods, benefits, services, and/or employment.  Contact Equifax at (800) 525-6285, Experian at (888) 397-3742 and Trans Union at (800) 916-8800.  When you pay for identity theft protection, this fraud alert is one of the “benefits” they tout.

FREEZE YOUR CREDIT REPORT

Identity thieves and creditors are frozen in their tracks without access to your credit report as they will not have access to your credit history.  In Florida, you are entitled to temporarily “freeze” access to your credit profile without cost if you are over 65 years of age or are a verified victim of identity theft.  All others must pay $10.00.  Without access to your credit report, a responsible lender will not issue credit.  When you pay for identity theft protection, a credit report freeze is one of the “benefits” they tout.

STOP UNSOLICITED CREDIT CARD OFFERS

Are you tired of junk mail filling your mail box?  Opting out at www.optoutprescreen.com or (888) 5OPT-OUT will stop most unsolicited pre-approved applications and reduce the incidence of identity theft. Opting-Out refers to the process of removing your name from lists supplied by Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, and Innovis to be used for firm (preapproved / prescreened) offers of credit or insurance.  When paying for identity theft protection, opting out is one of the “benefits” they tout.

BUY A CROSS-CUT SHREDDER


“Dumpster diving” is still a very popular method of obtaining credit card applications and supporting documentation.  Purchase a cross-cut shredder that cuts vertically and horizontally, turning sensitive mail into confetti.  If you think a torn up credit card application will be rejected by a credit card company, you have not heard the story of how Chase approved a ripped up application.

While the Credit Card Act of 2009 has mandated a number of changes in relation to “free credit reports,” the area of identity theft protection is an area to watch.  Reduced fees in one area will only mean enhanced fees in another.  There is no reason to pay a monthly or yearly fee for something you can do yourself.

William E. Lewis Jr., is a credit repair expert with Credit Restoration Consultants and host of “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis” on AM 1470 WWNN, a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.

http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/mar/07/lc-identity-theft-protection-is-a-waste-of-money/columns-welewisjr/

Countdown to Credit Card Reform


In an ideal world, one would not worry about the recession, high unemployment rates, the foreclosure epidemic and the never ending debt load carried by the average American. In what has been referred to as the “Year of the Consumer,” 2010 has a lot to offer in federally mandated “changes” in the credit card industry.

With only eight days until enactment of The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, commonly known as The Credit Card Act of 2009, several changes are occurring that will have an impact on how Americans utilize their credit cards, debit cards, and gift cards. Are you aware of your rights and protections under the new law?

Consumer protection

Interest rate increases will be banned except when a cardholder is more than 60 days delinquent in paying a credit card bill.

The credit card issuer must review a cardholder’s account six months after increasing an interest rate and return the annual percentage rate to the prior lower level if all payments have been made on time.

An interest rate cannot be increased within the first 12 months of account existence and promotional rates must have a minimum of six months duration.

Advance notice of 45 days must be provided to a cardholder prior to changes in credit card terms and conditions. This includes any reward or benefit structure of a credit card.

The practice commonly known as universal default and double-cycle billing are no longer allowed.

Statements must be mailed at least 21 days before the payment due date.

Payments must be credited as on-time if received by 5 p.m. on the due date. All due dates that occur on a weekend or holiday are extended until the next business day.

Over-limit fees are now prohibited unless a cardholder specifically opts to allow processing of a transaction rather than being denied at a point of sale.

Enhanced consumer disclosures

A clear disclosure on how long it would take to pay off a credit card balance if cardholder makes only the minimum payment each month must be provided.

A clear disclosure on the total cost of interest and principal payments if a cardholder makes only the minimum payment each month must be provided.

Late payment deadline or postmark due dates are required to be clearly shown and provided to cardholders.

Protection of young consumers

Credit cards can no longer be issued to individuals under 21 unless they have an adult co-signer or prove payment ability through a reasonable income.

All college students must obtain permission from the adult co-signer to increase a credit limit on joint accounts they hold with those individuals.

Individuals under the age of 21 will now be protected from pre-screened credit card offers unless they specifically opt-in for said offers.

Gift cards

Gift cards are now required to remain active for at least five years from the day of their initial activation.

Dormancy or inactivity fees may no longer be imposed on gift cards unless there has been no activity in a 12-month period.

Dormancy or inactivity fees must be clearly disclosed to gift card buyers upon purchase.

Should a gift card expire after 5 years, the terms of expiration must be clearly disclosed to gift card buyers upon purchase.

To learn more about The Credit Card Act of 2009 and your rights and protections under the new law, visit www.tinyurl.com/thecreditreport

William E. Lewis Jr. is a credit repair expert with Credit Restoration Consultants and host of “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis” on AM 1470 WWNN, a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.

http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/feb/14/countdown-credit-card-reform/columns-welewisjr/

Loan Modification Licensure in Florida – an Industry no Longer Without Regulation


The days of simply opening up shop and starting a loan modification business have come to an end in Florida. Individuals or businesses providing loan modification services must now be licensed as a mortgage broker by the Florida Office of Financial Regulation (OFR) in order to conduct business.

The Florida Legislature recently passed Senate Bill SB 2226. This law makes significant changes to Florida’s mortgage brokerage law — Chapter 494, Florida Statutes — effective Jan. 1, 2010. In particular, the new law specifically covers negotiation of existing loans as being part of the duties of a mortgage broker. Any individual or business attempting to negotiate a loan mortgage modification will now be required to obtain a license through OFR. Additionally, there are new disclosures required in order to perform a loan modification — large type print on contracts and a three day rescission period are among a few of the changes.

The new law also requires “loan originators” to obtain a license. Prior to the amended law, there was a large loophole that allowed salaried employees of a mortgage broker to act as loan originators and still receive compensation for bringing a borrower and lender together. Although this section of the law phases in on October 1, 2010, hundreds of individuals have submitted applications to the OFR to become compliant.

The new law was sparked by hundreds of complaints filed with the state attorney general’s office in Tallahassee. While only 59 complaints were filed in 2008, the number skyrocketed to approximately 3,750 in 2009, according to Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, who recently appeared on the Credit Report with Bill Lewis on AM 1470 WWNN.

In an effort to combat the rampant increase in foreclosure rescue scams within an industry previously unregulated, General McCollum sued three foreclosure rescue firms — and the attorneys who worked for them — alleging that they charged advance “qualifying payments” as high as $1,299 to perform loan modifications in violation of state law. Filed in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court on December 17, 2009, the suit also claims the company required clients to establish escrow accounts for additional fees and deceived them by implying the money was for legal representation.

After receiving numerous complaints — the majority originating from consumers outside Florida — the attorney general began investigating Kirkland Young LLC in July, 2009. State regulators soon realized that the business was affiliated with ABK Consultants Inc. and Attorney Aid LLC, which were also named in the suit. Although located in Miami-Dade, the businesses solicited customers nationwide. The legal action seeks to shut down the three companies, a $10,000 fine for each violation of state law, as well as restitution for consumers scammed in the process. Although in receivership, Kirkland Young has also been sued by the Federal Trade Commission.

Through Jan. 31, 2010 South Florida ranks fourth in the nation for home loan modifications, with 37,451 under President Barack Obama’s Making Home Affordable Program. Nationwide, 24 percent of the 3.3 million homes with distressed loans have been modified, according to a U.S. Department of the Treasury report. While the new law is not going to eliminate loan modification scams completely, it should make them more difficult. In 2009, the Mortgage Fraud Task Force was handling more than 200 cases of loan modification fraud. In 2008, the South Florida field office of the FBI had the second-highest number of mortgage fraud reports in the country with 5,155 reported instances.

For more information or to file a complaint, visit Attorney General Bill McCollum’s Web site at www.myfloridalegal.com.

William E. Lewis Jr., is a credit repair expert and host of “The Credit Report with Bill Lewis” on AM 1470 WWNN, a daily forum for business and financial news, politics, economic trends, and cutting edge issues.

http://www2.highlandstoday.com/content/2010/feb/07/loan-modification-licensure-florida-industry-no-lo/columns-welewisjr/