Bank of America is coming under scrutiny for allegedly shady mortgage practices yet again.
Employees of the mega-bank were rewarded for putting homes in foreclosure, and were encouraged to deny loan modifications under false pretenses, according to six former employees cited in a lawsuit filed last week in Massachusetts.
The purpose of the alleged practice was to string homeowners along with a promise of a loan modification that they were never actually going to receive — which eventually saved the bank a pile of money.
"We were told to lie to customers," declared former employee Simone Gordon.
Officials from the bank denied any wrong-doing, saying that the lawsuit was "rife with factual inaccuracies.''
The controversy centers around HAMP, or the Home Affordable Modification Program, which was created by the federal government after the 2008 financial collapse to help homeowners who were struggling to make their mortgage payments.
If customers met certain criteria and made trial payments, they were supposed to be considered for a loan modification. The problem, according to the suit, is that Bank of America would deny the applications for no legitimate reason, then lie about why the modifications were denied. Erika Brown, another former BofA employee, detailed her own experience:
During my time at Bank of America, I saw well over a hundred cases in which a Bank of America "analyst" cancelled loan modifications and stated non payment as a reason for the cancellation when it was apparent form the computer system that the homeowner had actually made all the required payments. There was nothing on the computer system to suggest that the analyst's cancellation was anything but arbitrary. [ProPublica]
Not only would the employees enter, falsely, that a customer had failed to make a payment — they would also report the customer to credit agencies, damaging the homeowner's credit rating, according to the court documents. The lawsuit also claims that employees were told to falsify their reasons for denying a loan modification in reports to the Treasury Department.
Twice a month, employees would also take part in a "blitz," said Williams Wilson Jr., a former underwriter and manager for Bank of America. The blitz consisted of management telling underwriters to "clean out" their backlogs by denying all applications older than 60 days old — even if the homeowners had provided the necessary documents and complied with the terms of the trial period.
Despite going through all of this, many homeowners were ultimately rejected for a loan modification and pushed towards foreclosure. Gordon, a former senior collector at Bank of America, said that employees who recorded 10 or more foreclosures in a month were given a $500 bonus and were rewarded with gift cards to places like Target and Bed Bath and Beyond. Collectors who failed to foreclose enough homes, Gordon said, were threatened with termination.
The lawsuit also stated that Bank of America employees were encouraged to offer a less-favorable in-house modification. Courtney Scott, one of the customers who applied for a loan modification under HAMP, told NBC News she was repeatedly told to fill out paperwork that she had already completed. Finally, she was offered an in-house loan. The problem? It only lowered her monthly payments by $7 and change.
The lawsuit named several Bank of America executives by name, including Patrick Kerry, a vice president who oversaw the the loan modification process in the eastern United States.
"This is not surprising, but absolutely sickening," Peggy Mears, organizer for the Home Defenders League, told Salon. "Maybe finally our courts and elected officials will stand with communities over Wall Street and prosecute, and then lock up, these criminals."
This is hardly the first time Bank of America has been sued over its mortgage practices. The company paid $42 billion to settle mortgage-related lawsuits between 2010 and 2012, according to Reuters, much of which stemmed from its troubled acquisition of Countrywide Financial in 2008.
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