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Homeowners Strike Back Against Two of New York's Largest Mortgage Scammers
NEW YORK - July 6 - Two justices of the New York State Supreme Court have issued sweeping orders to restrain the activities of alleged “loan modification” scammers, providing major victories for financially vulnerable homeowners.
On July 5, 2011, Justice Thomas A. Adams of the Nassau County Supreme Court extended a temporary restraining order that restrains the activities and freezes the assets of a group of companies operating under the names “Express Home Solutions” and “Home Preserve Law Group.” The ruling complements a similar order issued on June 28, 2011 by Justice John M. Galasso, also of the Nassau County Supreme Court, which enjoins a group of individuals operating a separate business under the name “Homesafe America.”
The cases were brought by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (“Lawyers’ Committee”) and its pro bono counsel Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP (“Davis Polk”) on behalf of more than 30 homeowners who allegedly lost money to the two companies. Plaintiffs are seeking a combined $3 million in punitive damages against the alleged scam operations, as well as court orders permanently preventing their owners and employees from engaging in mortgage-related activities.
Among other claims, Plaintiffs are alleging that the scam companies violated a New York statute known as the “Deceptive Practices Act,” which empowers injured consumers to operate as “private attorneys general”: under the Act, an individual victim may seek an injunction against an alleged scammer on behalf of all consumers. Using this forceful yet rarely used remedy, non-profit organizations like the Lawyers Committee, in partnership with the private bar, can step in and shut down scam operations when state and local enforcement agencies lack the resources to do so.
“The Lawyers’ Committee has now filed three cases in New York to fight these widespread fraudulent schemes, with a total of four cases pending nationwide” said Lawyers’ Committee Chief Counsel and Senior Deputy Director Jon Greenbaum. “We are committed to fighting this scourge through lawsuits like these and through coordination with and assistance to federal, state and local law enforcement.”
A “loan modification scam” relies on a simple scheme: a false promise to modify a homeowner’s mortgage in exchange for an up-front payment. These operations specifically target lower- and middle-income families desperate for ways to lower their monthly mortgage payments. The perpetrators lure in victims by promising to re-negotiate their home loans, and then take homeowners’ money without doing anything to help.
In some cases, the scammers convince their victims to stop making their monthly mortgage payments and cease communicating with their lenders during this “negotiation” period. By the time the homeowners realize they have been scammed, not only have they lost thousands of dollars in up-front payments, but they may have also entered default or foreclosure proceedings.
Express Home Solutions / Home Preserve Law Group
This is the second time the Lawyers’ Committee and Davis Polk have filed a law suit against Express Home Solution (“EHS”) and its related companies. On March 9, 2011, the Lawyers’ Committee and Davis Polk filed a complaint against EHS, alleging that its representatives had scammed residents throughout the New York metropolitan area. The subsequent media coverage – including stories in The Wall Street Journal and New York Daily News – resulted in dozens of additional victims coming forward, many of whom have participated in this second lawsuit against EHS.
EHS allegedly scams its victims via cold calls, print advertisements, and in-person meetings. In some cases, it is alleged that EHS targets specific ethnic communities in an effort to maximize its profits. The company has changed its name several times, using such monikers as “Save My Home,” “Express Modifications,” and “Empire Home Savers.” It is alleged that the company is now operating as “Home Preserve Law Group” in West Hempstead, New York.
Homesafe America, Inc.
The other law suit targets Homesafe America (“Homesafe”) and its successor corporation, United Legal Solutions. Based in Levittown, New York, the companies are alleged to operate a constellation of websites, most of which are alleged to falsely imply that they are affiliated with government agencies or large financial institutions. Homesafe is further alleged to have paid Google tens of thousands of dollars each month to ensure that links to its websites appeared first when users searched for “loan modification” and other mortgage-related terms.
Court records indicate that Homesafe grossed more than $2 million in 2010 alone and, as of February 2011, had allegedly taken money from approximately 1,000 families across the country. In sworn affidavits, the company’s owners have admitted to running an illegal scam, with one going so far as to state that “the entire operation is illegal.” Remarkably, the company’s misleading websites remain online to this date, thereby flaunting Justice Galasso’s court order. (For more, see “Anatomy of a $2,000,000 Scam,” attached to this release.)
About the Project
These lawsuits are part of a broad anti-scam coalition, called the Loan Modification Scam Prevention Network (“LMSPN”). LMSPN also includes representatives from key governmental agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the offices of numerous state Attorneys General. Since the launch of the LMSPN database in February 2010, more than 15,000 homeowners have reported scams or potential scams, totaling over $35 million lost. Over 800 of those complaints come from New York State residents, with reported losses of over $3 million.
Homeowners who believe they have been the victim of a scam are encouraged to call either 311 in New York City or 888-995-HOPE (4673) or visit www.preventloanscams.org and click the link “Report a Scam!” Those who have a complaint against the entities named in the Homesafe and EHS cases should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Lawyers’ Committee and Davis Polk are representing victims free of charge.