Unlicensed Loan Modification Firm Solicits Consumers
Kramer & Kaslow, a California law firm, is the subject of a consumer alert concerning alleged unlicensed loan modification services for Washington state residents. Many Washington consumers reported receiving misleading advertisements.
The Department of Financial Institutions conducted an investigation of the source of the advertising materials, and ascertained that they are neither from the consumer's lender or any branch of the government, but from companies affiliated with Kramer & Kaslow, and a professional corporation called "Consolidated Litigation Group."
In late 2010, these affiliated companies sent mailings to Washington consumers for loan modification services; in early 2011, the advertisements were for forensic loan audits (mortgage loan compliance review).
Fees for loan modification services were reported as $3,000 or more; the "mortgage loan compliance review" was quoted as $2,500, fully refundable if no violations are found.
If the modification efforts are unsuccessful, or the forensic loan audit uncovers "predatory lending violations", the consumers are then solicited to become a plaintiff in a mass joinder lawsuit with "Consolidated Litigation Group."
Initially this inclusion required no extra fees; however, recent consumer reports indicate that the fees to join the "mass joinder lawsuit" are quoted as $1,500 or more.
Washington state law requires third-party loan modification companies to be licensed with the Department of Financial Institutions.
To date, none of the companies affiliated with these advertisements are licensed with the Department in any capacity.
Earlier this year, the federal Mortgage Assistance Relief Services (MARS) Rule was issued to protect struggling homeowners from being further victimized by "loan modification" and other mortgage relief scams.
The most important aspect of this rule is a ban on advance fees. Under this provision, mortgage relief companies may not collect any fees until they have provided consumers with a written offer from their lender or servicer that the consumer decides is acceptable, and a written document from the lender or servicer describing the key changes to the mortgage that would result if the consumer accepts the offer. The companies also must remind consumers of their right to reject the offer without any charge.
The MARS rule has a section for attorneys conducting loan modification or other mortgage relief services. To be exempt from this Rule, attorneys must meet three conditions:
1) they are engaged in the practice of law;
2) they are licensed in the state where the consumer or the dwelling is located; and
3) they are complying with state laws and regulations governing attorney conduct related to the rule.
To be exempt from the advance fee ban, attorneys must meet a fourth requirement - they must place any fees they collect in a client trust account and abide by state laws and regulations covering such accounts.
According to "Consolidated Litigation Group, P.C., there are four California attorneys associated with this "litigation group":
Mitchell J. Stein
Christopher J. Van Son
The Department of Financial Institutions has determined that none of these attorneys, affiliated with the mass joinder litigation connected to this advertisement, are licensed to practice law with the Washington State Bar.
This conduct has been referred to the Washington State Bar for potential action.
These attorneys, however, are apparently eligible to practice law in California. The State of California's Department of Real Estate (CA DRE) has issued its own Consumer Alert regarding mass litigation or mass joinder lawsuits being marketed to consumers. You can read the CA DRE Consumer Alert at www.dre.ca.gov/pdf_docs/ca/ConsumeAlert_WarningreMassLitigation.pdf.
Additionally, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) also recently issued its own Consumer Alert regarding "mass joinder lawsuit" mailings. You can read the BBB Consumer Alert at www.bbb.org/us/article/bbb-warns-homeowners-mass-joinder-lawsuit-mailings-may-be-latest-advance-fee-mortgage-modification-scheme-26797.
The Department of Financial Institutions would like to encourage all Washington consumers to verify that any loan modification service they consider engaging is properly licensed with the Department of Financial Institutions and complying with the MARS Rule and applicable state law.
Consumers are also encouraged to conduct internet research on the company to check for possible consumer complaints and to learn more about the company. For Washington consumers whose home is in jeopardy due to default or financial troubles, please visit the "Washington Homeownership Information" website at http://www.homeownership.wa.gov for information on how to obtain free assistance in working with your lender prior to foreclosure.
For more information, contact the Department of Financial Institutions at 1.877.RING DFI (746-4334).