WASHINGTON — The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau took action Thursday against three mortgage companies that, authorities say, falsely implied affiliation with the U.S. government.
The CFPB filed a lawsuit against reverse mortgage lender All Financial Services and issued consent orders against Flagship Financial Group and American Preferred Lending. The companies are not affiliated, but the bureau says they all effectively deceived consumers by making false claims.
The allegations stem from a joint review with the Federal Trade Commission, which the CFPB called a "sweep," of false advertising. The agencies surveyed consumer complaints and 800 randomly selected mortgage ads to catch potential wrongdoing.
Flagship has agreed to pay a civil penalty of $225,000 while American Preferred will pay $85,000. The court will determine All Financial's fine at a later date.
"The U.S. government is very serious about stopping companies from falsely claiming federal authority, and we are particularly concerned about false or deceptive statements made in advertisements about reverse mortgages that target older Americans," CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a press release.
The CFPB said the three companies "imitated U.S. government notices" in mailings to consumers. The complaint filed against All Financial in Maryland alleges that the company used deceptive advertising from November 2011 to December 2012. The bureau said the reverse lender sent mailings to nearly 200,000 people that had an eagle resembling the Great Seal of the United States. Headers on the notices read, "GOVERNMENT LENDING DIVISION" and "Housing and Recovery Act of 2008 Eligibility Notice."
All Financial is also accused of claiming reverse mortgage borrowers had no monthly payments without informing them they still had to pay taxes and insurance. The lender also allegedly failed to disclose that payments could come due if the borrower dies and the spouse, who did not sign the mortgage, remains in the home. The CFPB wants the court to approve the civil fine and issue an injunction to stop certain activities. The complaint has been filed in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland.
Flagship Financial, based in Utah, was accused of sending out more than one million mailers claiming it was "approved" by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as "tens of thousands of mailers" resembling government notices.
Separately, California-based American Preferred Lending was accused of sending more than 100,000 mailings with a logo claiming it was a Federal Housing Administration lending institution when it really just offered FHA-backed loans.
Both lenders were ordered to stop such advertising and pay the fines. The companies have agreed to the orders without admitting or denying wrongdoing.
Attempts to reach all three companies were unsuccessful.