On July 21, 2010, President Obama signed a bill that literally overhauled every corner of the financial industry—Dodd-Frank became an immediate game changer. Among other it contains an obscure provision that may fail to catch people's attention.
In addition to the sweeping changes in Dodd-Frank, the bill contains a small, obscure provision buried in section 922, which is a piece of reform that could turn everyday Americans into millionaires by doing one simple thing: becoming a whistleblower.
Section 922 of Dodd-Frank sets the stage for whistleblower activities. Not only does the law provide minimum thresholds for whistleblower payouts but it also requires the SEC to award hefty payouts to persons who provide information regarding securities law violations.
The section actually rewards a tattletale going directly to the SEC as opposed to reporting the illegal or fraudulent act directly to the company. And to sweeten the pot, whistleblowers earn a reward of 10% to 30% of any monetary sanctions imposed that exceed $1 million by going directly to the SEC with original information that leads to enforcement and penalties.
This change in focus on whistleblower activities has caused great angst within the financial industry since section 922 encourages external reporting of rule-breaking to the SEC.
Historically, the primary goal of whistle blowing was to reduce willful wrongdoing by an individual or a company. Internal reporting would allow a company to investigate early on and address the problems and resolve the issue.
Section 922 changes this and actually promotes the release of varying degrees of quality intelligence about alleged corporate misconduct. Additionally, Section 922 can be costly to the commission, which needs to process and validate the questionable information which is reported to it.
So why are whistleblowers so successful?
It could just be the sign of the times. The general public has a new awareness of what rights they have and are more willing to come forward with the protections and payouts they can potentially receive.
Juries also play a big role in why whistle blowing has gained in popularity. Jurors can often relate to these stories and they understand the role of the victim who is simply looking out for the good of the public. These juries often are offended by those companies who are perceived to willfully break the rules and often have had similar experiences themselves.
These events are something the public can understand.
The impact of all this on the mortgage industry has been enormous. And the irony of it all is you don’t have to be an employee, current or otherwise, to be a whistleblower. It was an unemployed attorney who faced foreclosure that blew the lid of the robo-signing debacle and brought foreclosures to a screeching halt.
Whistleblowers also played a key role in the national foreclosure settlement agreed to in February of this year. According to federal court papers filed in Washington, whistleblower claims totaling $228 million led to the record-breaking national foreclosure settlement to the tune $26 billion.
Given the current environment, whistle blowing is here to stay and reporting will likely increase since it now has the power to turn middle-class Americans into millionaires, supposedly in the name of the greater good.
Hopefully, the government will continue to show restraint and continue to turn down about 80% of the cases it reviews. After all, if a complaint is turned down, the whistleblower is always free to pursue litigation against the offending company on their own.
Diane Gozza is EVP, business development, Integrated Mortgage Solutions, Houston.