The California attorney general’s office has seized six websites that allegedly targeted distressed homeowners who are having trouble with mortgage debt.
Attorney General Kamala Harris said three suspects have been arrested in connection to running this scheme.
According to a 57-count complaint alleging theft, forgery, notary fraud and recording of false documents, Ronald Vernon Cupp supposedly deceived homeowners by falsely advertising a way to “kill” the mortgage debt of struggling Northern California homeowners through six different websites. Cupp was assisted in operating this scam by Randall Heyden and Angelle Wertz, a public notary who apparently certified phony legal documents.
The complaint claims that Cupp purportedly recorded fraudulent documents, which would only delay a foreclosure, not actually satisfy the preexisting mortgage debt.
“Vulnerable California homeowners thought they were working to save their homes but were actually the victims of a fraudulent scheme,” Harris said. “Today, it’s not enough to dismantle the brick-and-mortar aspect of a criminal operation; we need to shut down criminal operations in cyberspace as well.”
Through Cupp’s business—North Bay Trust Services—homeowners would often pay upfront fees between $1,000 and $10,000 and sign a promissory note or new mortgage for a phony offer to eliminate their mortgage debt, the complaint said. However, requiring upfront payments in return for a service is illegal in California.
After the homeowners agreed to pay North Bay Trust Services, the suspects then allegedly filed invalid documentation claiming to be the attorney for the homeowner’s actual lender. Once this happened, the scammers would surrender the mortgage and record a new deed of trust in favor of North Bay Trust Services. Meanwhile, the complaint says that the debt to the original lender was never actually satisfied.
The six websites that the defendants used to run their scam included wekillyourmortgage.com, northbaytrustservices.com, santarosatrustandtitle.com, sonomafidelitytitle.com, cortemaderafidelityandtitle.com and marintrustandtitle.com.
All of these websites have had their service suspended pursuant to a court order at the request of the AG’s eCrime Unit. These pages now go directly to the AG’s website where individuals have an opportunity to file an online complaint form if they believe they are a victim of this scheme.
Following the seizure of these websites, Harris issued some tips to help homeowners avoid being future victims to any related type of scam similar to this. First, she said borrowers should never pay an upfront fee for mortgage-related services since it is against California law.
Two other tips homeowners can utilize in order to avoid being a target for a mortgage fraud scheme is to be skeptical of third party phone or online solicitations, Harris said, as well as not to distribute your personal information, such as a bank account number, Social Security number or the name of your loan servicer, to a solicitor.